Foreword
Foreword
Bill’s Music was founded over 45 years ago, and since its inception has been
staffed with knowledgeable people who have hands on experience as performing
musicians, teachers, DJs, recording engineers, and pro sound technicians. While nothing
can replace the personal attention and information that our staff can provide whether in
person, by phone, or by email, this guide is intended to provide you with some basic
information to help you either to begin or to advance your musical career.
Over the years, Bill’s Music associates have answered thousands of questions,
and provided guidance in all areas of the music business. Whether you are selecting your
first guitar or drumset, or putting together a complicated sound system or recording
studio, our staff is always here to assist you.
In this guide, we hope to answer many of the questions we’ve been asked over the
years with an A to Z overview of popular as well as more obscure musical instruments
and equipment. We also hope this book will be a helpful guide in choosing the right
musical instruments and equipment to satisfy your needs, and to help you pursue your
passion for making music.
Credits & Thanks
Writer: Jim Mays
Writer: Manager
Jim Mays~ Bill’s Music House, Inc.
Manager ~ Bill's Music House, Inc.
Content Editor: Bonnie Kinsey
Administrator
~ Bill’s Music House, Inc.
Publisher:
Bill Higgins
Owner ~ Bill's Music House, Inc.
Publisher: Bill Higgins
Owner ~ Bill’s Music House, Inc.
Copyright © 2012 Bill’s Music House, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents
Accordions.................................1
Overview
Function
Concertinas
Other Considerations
Amplifiers..................................2
Amplifier Basics
Tubes vs. Solid State
Hybrid Amps
Modeling Amps
Speakers
Types of Amplifiers
Other Features to Look For
Band Instruments....................6
Overview
Brass
Woodwinds
Orchestral Strings
Percussion
Bass Guitars............................10
Electric Basses
Choosing an Electric Bass
4 Strings
5 Strings
6 Strings
8 Strings
Fretless
Active and Passive Electronics
Left Handed
Hollow and Semi-Hollow
Acoustic/Electric
Upright
Bluegrass/Country/Folk.........12
Banjos
4 Strings
5 Strings
Mandolins
Resonator Guitars
Autoharps
Lap Steels
Pedal Steels
Dulcimers
Celtic Harps
Bass Fiddles
Cymbals...................................14
Overview
Cymbal Packs
Rides
Crashes
Hi-Hats
Splash Cymbals
China Cymbals
Gongs
DJ...............................................16
Overview
Turntables
CD Players
Mixers
Packaged Systems
Software
Sound Systems
Lighting
Headphones
Microphones
Drums........................................20
Your First Drum Set
Intermediate & Professional Sets
Hand Drums & Percussion
Marching Drums
Electronic Drums
Hardware
Sticks
Heads
Accessories
Effects for Guitar and Bass......27
Overview
Types of Effects
Multi-effects
Guitars........................................31
Your First Guitar
Acoustics
Acoustic/Electrics
Electrics
Left Handed
7 Strings
12 Strings
9 Strings
4 strings
Mini guitars
Sitars
Strings
Harmonicas..................................37
Diatonic
Cross Harp
Chromatic
Special Effects
Amplification
Keyboards....................................39
Basic MIDI
Sequencers
Samplers
Digital Pianos
Portable Keyboards
Arrangers
Synthesizers
Workstations
Drum Machines
Lighting.........................................43
Overview
Wash Lighting
LED Lighting
Follow Spots
Special Effects Lighting
DMX and Intelligent Lighting
Non-DMX Lighting
Lighting Controllers
Lighting Stands & Cabling
Mallet Percussion..........................46
Xylophones
Marimbas
Vibraphones
Glockenspiels
Bell Kits
Mallets
Microphones...................................47
Selecting a Microphone
Terminology
Types of Microphones
Recording Microphones
Wireless Systems
Pro Sound......................................52
Introduction
Live Sound Mixers
Signal Processors
Amplifiers
Speaker Enclosures
Wiring and Connections
Recording.......................................63
Computer Recording
Handheld Recorders
Studio Monitors
Headphones
Studio Microphones
Multitrack Recorders
Channel Strips
Preamps
Cabling
Duplicators
Acoustical Room Treatment
Ukuleles.........................................71
Overview
Soprano
Concert
Tenor
Baritone
Zithers...........................................72
Fretless
Fretted
Accordions
Overview
Accordions have been in use for almost 200 years. Because the player can play melody, chords and bass simultaneously, the accordion produces such a full sound that an experienced player can even use it to perform as a oneman-band. The instrument is popular for use in folk and traditional music, ethnic music, and Cajun style music. It has
also been used in popular music and other genres.
Function
Accordions consist of a right hand and a left hand reed chamber
with a bellows connecting the two reed chambers together. When the bellows is squeezed or expanded, air is forced across the internal reeds to
produce sound. The bellows also controls the dynamic expression of the
instrument. Vented grilles in the accordion let air in and out.
Most accordions are also equipped with switches that let the player change the timbre of the instrument. The right hand reed chamber is
designed to play the melody and can be controlled by a chromatic or diatonic buttonboard, but most often it is controlled by a piano-style keyboard. The left hand reed chamber is controlled by a series of small buttons which provide bass and chords for accompaniment.
The piano accordion is the most popular, and it is the style most
people are familiar with. The right hand keyboard uses black and white
keys and is played the same as a traditional piano keyboard. The left hand manual consists of a series of small buttons.
The most popular arrangement for the buttons is the Stradella system. This system consists of 120 buttons which are
laid out in 6 rows of twenty. This is also referred to as a 120 bass accordion.
Each row of small buttons performs a different function, and each individual button selects a different key.
Two rows of buttons provide contrabass and fundamental bass notes, while the other four rows provide major, minor,
dominant 7th, and diminished 7th chords for accompaniment.
Concertina
The concertina is a much smaller variation of the accordion. Sometimes
referred to as a squeeze box or button box, it is a handheld instrument that is small
and extremely portable. Like the accordion, it has a central bellows which forces air
across a system of internal reeds to produce sound. There is a series of buttons on
both sides of the instrument, and each plays a different single note. The number of
buttons can vary, and the instrument can be either diatonic or chromatic. Hohner is
one company that produces fine concertinas.
Other Considerations
Size and weight are other things to consider when selecting an accordion. The instrument can be heavy and
somewhat bulky for smaller players. Accordions come in a variety of sizes, and smaller, lighter-weight models are
available for petite individuals and young students.
Straps are another consideration. You will need a pair of sturdy shoulder straps to support the instrument, and
you will want to make sure that they are comfortable to wear while supporting the weight of the instrument.
For more information email us: info@billsmusic.com
1
Amplifiers
There are many things to consider when choosing an amplifier. Volume, tone, weight, effects, speaker configuration, tube or solid state, combo or stack: all are options that need to be factored in before making your final choice.
Your best bet is to seek out advice at a professional music store.
It's a good idea to take your own guitar into the store when you are trying out amplifiers. This will give you a
true representation of what your rig will actually sound like. Stick with major name brands such as Fender®,
Marshall®, Orange®, Vox®, Peavey®, Line 6®, and Roland®. A good quality amp will give you years of reliable
service. If you have invested in an expensive guitar, you want to make sure that you
purchase an amp that is capable of doing it justice.
The two most important factors that you will need to consider are volume and
tone. The volume you will need depends on the type of venue where you will be performing. A 15 watt practice amp may be fine for the family room, but it won't it cut
for playing in a band. Once you start playing with other musicians, your amp will need
to be heard over the bass, drums, and keyboards. For garage bands and small venues,
30W to 50W will usually do the trick. For concert size venues, especially outdoors,
you may need an amp stack with 100W of power or more.
Remember that today many venues provide a sound system to amplify the
music. A sound engineer can mic your amp, or feed a line-out signal directly to the
mixing board. This allows you to use a smaller and less costly amplifier. A smaller
amp may also produce the perfect tone you are looking for, and you can let the sound
system take care of the volume.
As for tone, many factors come into play. While the venue may dictate the volume you will need, amplifier tone is strictly a matter of personal taste. Tone is affected
by many things. Tube amps sound different from solid-state amps. In addition, there
are also Hybrids and Modeling amps with their own unique features. You will also
need to decide whether you need a combo or a stack. Speaker size and configurations
are another consideration, and there are different effects options to consider. We will
look at all of these to help you with your selection.
Amplifier Basics
To understand how an amplifier works, you need to understand the basic component stages that make up a guitar amplifier. Your guitar transmits a signal to the amplifier input. From there, the
signal passes through a preamp which boosts the signal. Next, the signal passes through an EQ (Tone) section, and
possibly through an effects loop patch. From there, it goes to the power amplifier which provides the wattage to drive
the loudspeakers.
The electronic components that are used make up these different amplifier stages have a lot to do with an amplifier’s ultimate tone. The interaction between the preamp and power amp are especially important. Probably the biggest ongoing argument among guitar players is whether a tube amp or a solid-state amp is the best choice. They both
have advantages and disadvantages.
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Tubes vs. Solid-State
Tube Amps
Early amplifiers were all tube amps. There was no other choice. Because they were the type of amplifiers used
in the early days of rock and roll, and other genres of music, they are often referred to as having a classic or vintage
sound. Tube amps are also said to have warmth that only vacuum tubes can produce.
When a tube amp is overdriven it produces a natural distortion and compression (sustain) that many guitarists
desire. Keep in mind that to achieve this sound, the amplifier is basically running at full volume. Depending on the
venue, you may want to select an amplifier that has a lower wattage rating, so that it can be driven into distortion without reaching ear splitting levels.
Many tube amps come with a Channel Volume and a Master Volume, sometimes referred to as Pre and Post.
Basically, the Channel Volume is controlling the preamp, and the Master Volume is controlling the power amp. By
maxing out the Channel Volume, and bringing the Master Volume up slowly, you achieve a situation where the preamp is being overdriven. This produces distortion and sustain at lower volume levels.
Tube amps are also louder than solid-state amps at the same wattage rating, but tube amps also have their
drawbacks. They are heavy, more expensive, and they require more maintenance and careful handling. Tubes need
periodic replacement, and tube sockets can get dirty and need to be cleaned. Naturally, glass vacuum tubes are fragile
and extra care needs to be taken when transporting tube amplifiers.
Solid State Amps
Solid-state amps do have some advantages. They are cheaper, lighter-weight, and require less maintenance.
They produce a nice clean sound, which some players prefer. Critics refer to them as sounding sterile or brittle. In an
effort to simulate a tube amp, solid-state amps almost always supply a distortion option of some type. Manufacturers
have put a lot of effort into various designs to emulate natural tube distortion. It is up to the individual player to decide
if their efforts have been satisfactory.
Hybrid Amps
Hybrid amps combine both tube and solid state technologies. A tube preamp can be combined with a solid-state
power amp, or a solid-state preamp can be combined with a tube power amp. Some amps use just a single vacuum
tube in the preamp section in an attempt to produce an authentic tube sound. The combination of tube and solid state
technologies in hybrid amps reduces manufacturing costs, provides increased reliability, and for many players, hybrids
do an acceptable job of reproducing a vintage tube amp sound.
Modeling Amps
Modeling amps use digital signal processors to simulate various amplifiers that have been popular over the
years. They can replicate the tones produced by numerous amplifier heads and combo amps. They also have cabinet
simulation that can replicate different cabinet designs and speaker configurations. Not only can you dial up classic
amp sounds from the past, but you can also mix and match amp heads and cabinets to come up with your own unique
combinations. All of this flexibility, combined with numerous onboard effects, allows the player to move through a
whole palette of sounds quickly and easily.
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3
Speakers
In general, smaller speakers sound brighter and larger speakers have more bass response. A 12" speaker is by
far the most popular choice among guitarists. They are used in combo amps in 1-12" or 2-12" configurations, and also
in larger 4x12" cabinets. Some players prefer a 10" speaker because of their somewhat brighter sound. They are normally used in combo amps in either 2-10" or 4-10" configurations.
Smaller 8" speakers are usually found in practice amplifiers, while 15" and 18" speakers are the most popular
choices for bass cabinets. However, there are always deviations from the norm. Some guitarists, along with pedal steel
and harmonica players, prefer the sound of a 15" speaker, and some bass cabinets are outfitted with 10" speakers and
tweeters.
Different size speakers are sometimes used in combination to provide a wider range of sound. Bass cabinets,
keyboard amps, and acoustic amplifiers often use a woofer in conjunction with a smaller speaker or tweeter. Another
point to remember is that a closed back cabinet provides more bass response than an open back cabinet.
Speaker efficiency is another consideration. A higher quality speaker will be more efficient than a cheaper
model, and will therefore be louder.
Types of Amplifiers
Practice Amps
This is the type of amplifier that many players start with. They are often packaged with an inexpensive guitar
and sold as a starter pack. Most practice amps are 15W and have an 8" or 10" speaker. Usually, they have some type
of overdrive or distortion, a tone control section, and some come equipped with reverb. Other features normally included are a headphones jack and a CD input. They are designed for personal practice and do not have enough output
for jamming with other musicians in a band situation.
Combo Amps
Combo amps come with the amplifier and speakers housed in
one unit. They are easy to transport, and are the most popular style of
amplifier. Players love the sound of combo amps, and most classic
rock and roll recordings were made using them. Most combos are
designed as 1-12" or 2-12" models, but other speaker configurations
can also be found, such as 1-10", 2-10", 4-10" or 1-15". Lower wattage
combo amps can be easily overdriven, and are perfect for smaller venues. For larger venues, they can be hooked into the sound system to
achieve higher volume levels.
Stacks
Stacks are usually associated with concert style venues, where high volume levels are required. The amplifier
(head) is a separate unit from the speaker cabinet. Usually the cabinet contains four 12" inch speakers. A head with a
single 4-12 enclosure is referred to as a half-stack, while a head with two 4-12 enclosures is considered a full-stack.
In a full-stack setup, the bottom cabinet has a straight front, while the top cabinet has an angled front. Stacks look
great and provide a lot of punch, but they may be overwhelming for smaller venues.
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Bass Amps
Bass amps can be either combos, or have a separate head and
one or two speaker cabinets. Because it takes more power to produce
low frequencies, bass amps need to have more wattage than guitar
amps. Most bass players are looking for a clean bass sound. High
wattage bass amplifiers provide more head room to avoid clipping the
amp, which is what causes distortion.
Professional bass amps have a built in compressor to help prevent the amplifier from clipping. In addition, they also have an
onboard equalizer to help shape the tone, and a balanced line-out to
feed the amplifier signal directly to a sound system.
Traditionally, many bass players used 15" or even 18" speakers
alone to produce a fat bottom end, but today's players use a combination of speakers to provide more punch and definition to their sound. A
4-12" or 4-10" cabinet will often contain a tweeter for more high end,
and it can be stacked with a 1-15" cabinet to provide more bottom. Ampeg popularized the 8-10" SVT cabinet and
other designs have combined 10" speakers with 15" or 18" speakers in the same enclosure.
Most bass cabinets have sealed backs, and are ported or vented. This produces better low end response and it
also helps the speaker to work more efficiently.
Acoustic Amps
Acoustic amps are designed to produce a clean sound. They usually have a woofer and a tweeter designed to
reproduce a wide range of frequencies. They normally have two channels. One channel is for the guitar and usually
includes a chorus effect. The other channel has a mic input for handling vocals. Reverb is a standard feature. Acoustic
amps are designed to amplify guitar and vocals at the same time. This gives the performer a stand-alone unit that is
capable of handling a small venue such as a coffee house or a small club.
Keyboard Amps
Keyboard amps are similar to acoustic amps in that they usually have a woofer and tweeter designed to handle
the wide range of sounds that a keyboard can reproduce. They normally have multiple channels for handling several
different keyboards. A mic channel and reverb are standard features, and, like acoustic amplifiers, they are designed to
amplify instruments and vocals at the same time.
Other Features to Look For
Balanced line out: A balanced line out can send a clean, quiet signal directly to a sound system without the need for
a Direct Box or a microphone.
Effects loop: An effects loop allows you to patch stomp boxes and multi-effect units between the preamp and power
amp stages of an amplifier. This is a much quieter connection that reduces any noise that the effect units may create.
Foot Pedal: Some amplifiers come with a foot pedal, while others offer a pedal as an option. If the foot pedal is not
included, it is well worth the money to purchase one. A foot pedal can turn effects off and on, switch between clean
and distortion channels, and on digital amps, it can also recall preset or user patches.
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5
Band Instruments
Overview
Band instruments can be grouped into three categories: student, intermediate (step-up), and professional. Student level instruments are fine for beginners, but as players advance, intermediate and professional instruments can
enhance their performance. For students, most music teachers will provide a list of instrument brands that are acceptable for a beginner to learn on. As students advance, a good step-up instrument can provide some of the features
found on professional level instruments at a lower price point.
Professional instruments are crafted using the finest materials and workmanship. Better materials provide
improved tone and durability. Extra attention is given to these instruments to provide a faster action and a balanced
response. They are designed to allow the experienced player to bring out the subtle nuances of the instrument, and
they often feature advanced mechanisms that can expand the range of the instrument.
The information in this section is mainly designed to help students and parents decide which instrument they
may want to choose, and to provide a basic idea of how band instruments function and how they should be maintained.
Brass
At the student level, brass instruments are usually coated with a gold lacquer finish to give the brass a more
attractive appearance. Some step-up and professional instruments are silver plated to produce a warmer tone. Brass
instruments all have removable mouthpieces. Care should be taken to never tap the mouthpiece too tightly into any
brass instrument. If a mouthpiece becomes stuck, the instrument will need to be taken in for service. Professional
tools are needed to extricate a stuck mouthpiece. Do-it-yourself attempts to free the mouthpiece with normal household tools can damage the instrument.
Trumpet
The trumpet is in the key of B-flat. The
trumpet has three piston valves, four slides, and
two water keys (spit valves). The standard student
trumpet mouthpiece is a model 7C. Valve oil is
used to lubricate the piston valves, and tuning
slide grease is used to lubricate the slides. Students
should remove only one valve at a time for lubrication. This prevents the valves from getting
mixed up. When valves are placed back into the
trumpet, the valves must be turned clockwise until
the valve guides click into place and are properly
seated. If the valves get interchanged or the valve
guides are not aligned, the trumpet will not play
properly. Some step-up and professional trumpets also employ trigger mechanisms to help the player control the slides
easier.
Trombone
The most common trombone is the tenor trombone. The fundamental tone of a tenor trombone is B-flat, but
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trombone music reads in the key of C. The trombone has one long main slide, one short rear tuning slide, and one
water key. The standard student trombone mouthpiece is a 12C. Slide oil or slide cream is used to lubricate the main
slide. Tuning slide grease is used to lubricate the rear tuning slide. Trombones also have a slide locking mechanism to
prevent the main slide from accidentally coming off. The main slide needs to be handled with care. The slightest dent
in the main slide can impair the instrument’s playability. Professional trombones often have an F-trigger attachment to
allow the player to hit additional lower notes.
French Horn
The French horn has some unique characteristics of its own. It employs rotary valves instead of piston valves.
Rotary valves are usually operated by a string mechanism, and special rotary valve oil is used to lubricate the instrument. Student French horns utilize one set of pipes in the key of F. They are referred to as single French horns.
Advanced players prefer a double French horn which has an extra set of pipes in the key of B-flat. A trigger mechanism lets the player move back and forth from one set of pipes to the other.
Other Brass Instruments
Other instruments in the brass family include the cornet, flugelhorn, bass trombone, baritone horn, euphonium,
and tuba. All have their own dedicated mouthpieces. A cornet is in the same key as a trumpet, but is smaller and has a
softer tone. Its smaller size can make it ideal for a younger student who finds the trumpet difficult to handle. Obviously, as the size of the instrument increases, it produces a lower pitch.
Woodwinds
Clarinet
Student clarinets are made of plastic which is often referred to as resonite or ebonite. Cork grease is used to
keep the tenon corks moist to prevent them from becoming damaged or tearing when the instrument is assembled.
Clarinet parts are referred to in this order moving away from the player: the mouthpiece, the barrel, the upper joint,
the lower joint, and the bell.
The clarinet is in the key of B-flat. Students are recommended to start with a #2 or #2 ½ reed. Reeds are actually all the same size; the numbering refers to the thickness of the reed tip. As the numbers increase, the reed tip gets
thicker. Advanced players develop stronger facial muscles and require a thicker reed. Clarinets need to be assembled
with care. Gripping the instrument too tightly can bend rods and keys.
Professional clarinets are usually made of wood for improved tone. They are not recommended for young
students due to the extra maintenance involved. Wooden clarinets must be treated periodically with bore oil to prevent
the wood from cracking. All woodwinds should be cleaned with a swab after playing; this prolongs the life of the
pads by keeping them dry, and also maintains good hygiene.
Flute
The flute, while classified as a woodwind, does not use a reed. The sound is produced by blowing air across
the mouthpiece. Parts of the flute are referred to like parts of the body. Flute sections consist of the head-joint, the
body, and the foot. The flute is in the key of C. Student flutes are made of brass and then plated with nickel or silver.
Student flutes are referred to as having plateau fingering (closed-hole). Step up and advanced flutes use French style
(open-hole) fingering.
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7
Open-hole flutes are more expressive and are easier to play in tune, but they are too difficult for a beginner.
Plugs can be used to close the holes and then removed as needed as the student makes the transition to an open-hole
model. Step-up flutes usually have a solid silver head-joint for improved tone. Professional flutes have solid silver
bodies and foot joints as well as solid silver head-joints. Any part of a flute that is solid silver (sterling) should be
marked as such. If it is not marked, it only has a plated finish. Student flutes are referred to as C-foot flutes.
Professional flutes often provide an extra key on the foot section and are referred to as B-foot flutes. Flutes should be
cleaned after each use with a cleaning rod and a cloth to extend the life of the pads.
Saxophone
There is an entire family of saxophones, but the alto sax is the one that is usually recommended for beginners.
The alto sax is easy to handle and is considered the melody sax and is suitable for playing most lead lines.
Recommended student reed sizes are #2 or #2 ½. The alto sax is in the key of E-flat. Sax parts are referred to as the
mouthpiece, the neck, the upper and lower stack,
and the bell. (The upper and lower stacks, along
with the bell, are really just one whole unit).
Saxophones are made out of brass and usually covered with a gold lacquer finish.
It’s best to handle the instrument by the
bell to avoid bending any part of the mechanism.
Cork grease is used to lubricate the neck cork where
the mouthpiece attaches. A sax is fine-tuned by
moving the mouthpiece in or out on the neck. A
neck strap should be provided with each instrument.
The octave key is the cause of many repair problems. Using an end plug protects the octave key
mechanism from getting bent. The octave key itself
is located on the neck section, and this section
should be handled with care to prevent alignment
problems. A swab should be used to dry the instrument after each use.
Other Woodwind Instruments
Other instruments in the woodwind family include the piccolo, and also the tenor, soprano and baritone saxophones. There is also a group of double reed instruments which includes the oboe, the bassoon, and the English horn.
The oboe is the one most used at the student level. Recommended student oboe reeds should be soft or medium-soft.
Oboes, like clarinets, are usually plastic at the student level and wooden at the professional level. Professional oboes
have a full conservatory fingering system, which translates simply into an extra key on the bell. Student oboes don’t
have this extra key, and have merely an open hole in the side of the bell.
Orchestral Strings
The string instruments that most students play are the violin, the viola, and the cello. Violins come in a variety
of sizes. Depending on their age and size, a student will play either ¼, ½, ¾, or 4/4 (full size). A professional music
store will be able to measure a student to determine the correct size instrument to fit them correctly.
Before playing, a student should tighten the bow and apply rosin to the bow hair. New rosin should have the
surface roughed up with something like a key to enable it to flake off and adhere to the bow hair more easily. Violins
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are tuned backwards from a bass guitar (GDAE). Once a violin is tuned, the main
friction pegs should be left alone, and the violin should then be tuned with the fine
tuners located on the tailpiece.
The violin bridge should be positioned to align with the notches cut into
the f-holes on the face of the violin. If the bridge falls over, it can be repositioned
merely by reducing the tension on the strings and standing the bridge back up to
align with the notches in the f-holes. A sound post inside the violin supports the
bridge and assists with tone. If the sound post falls over, the violin needs to be
taken to a repair shop to have the sound post reset. Otherwise, the top could warp
or collapse. Like all string instruments, better violins use solid woods instead of
laminates. The woods used in violin making are usually spruce for the top and
maple for the back, sides, and neck.
All that was said about violins can be applied to the viola. The viola has a
different tuning, and the sizes are measured in inches rather than fractions (14” or
15” etc). The viola is a lower pitched instrument than the violin, and is tuned like a
cello (CGDA).
Cellos have all the characteristics of violins and violas, but are played
upright while the player is seated. To size a student for a cello, they should be seated on a chair, knees at a 90 degree angle, and see if they can comfortably reach around the bulk of the instrument. The
C tuning peg (the lowest string) should be level with the left ear. Again, a professional music store will be able to help
you select the proper size.
Bass viols or bass fiddles are usually referred to as upright basses. Like violins, they come in ¼ size increments. The ¾ size is usually considered full size for most applications such as Jazz or Bluegrass. The 4/4 giants are
usually reserved for symphonic applications. Just think of these instruments as big violins. The same features and procedures apply, just on a larger scale.
Student Percussion
Student percussion falls into two categories; the snare drum kit and the bell kit. The backpack type carrying
case or pull-along cases with wheels are usually preferred by students for transporting both types of instruments.
Snare Kit
The snare drum kit contains a snare drum, practice pad, drum
sticks, a snare drum stand, and a drum key. As the student
progresses, the snare drum can be incorporated into a larger drum kit in
the future.
Bell Kit
The bell kit consists of a small xylophone, a practice pad, a stand to
hold the xylophone, drum sticks and mallets. The xylophone enables a
student to experience a melodic percussive instrument. The practice pad
is used to teach them basic drum rudiments.
Some percussion kits combine both the snare drum and the bell
kit. It’s best to check with the music teacher to determine exactly what
their preferences are.
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9
Bass Guitars
Electric Bass
Choosing an Electric Bass
If you are just starting out, consider buying one of the many bass starter packs that are available. Squier®,
Ibanez®, and others offer complete outfits that include a bass, an amplifier, and all the accessories that you need to get started. These packages cost in the $200 to $300 range. Used instruments can also be an economical choice. Beginners are usually advised to start with a 4 string
model because that is the easiest to learn on. 5 string, 6 string, and fretless models are for the
more advanced player.
As with electric guitars, bass guitars are available in intermediate and professional models. These models use better electronic components, and they receive more attention to the action
and setup during the manufacturing process. If you perform standing up as most bassists do, consider the weight and balance of the instrument. You will want it to be comfortable to hold over a
long night of performing.
Most players prefer solid body basses. While hollow and semi-hollow models are available, they are prone to feedback. Most models come with bolt-on necks, but neck-thru models
are also made for those players who desire increased sustain.
4 Strings
The 4 String electric bass guitar was first mass produced by Leo Fender in the early
1950s. His solid body design eliminated feedback which was a common problem when trying to
amplify an upright bass. Its familiar guitar-shaped body enabled the player to hold it horizontally,
and wear it over the shoulder using a guitar strap. Its portability eliminated the problems of trying
to transport a bulky upright. Needless to say, it was an instant hit with bass players. Standard tuning is EADG, just like the bottom 4 strings on an electric guitar, but an octave lower. Fender®
bass guitars are still extremely popular, but manufacturers such as Ibanez®, Gibson®, Music
Man®, Rickenbacker®, Spector®, and others also produce quality instruments.
5 Strings
5 string bass guitars evolved to meet the demands of players needing to extend the lower range of the instrument. This was accomplished by adding a lower 5th string usually tuned to B. Standard tuning for the 5 string bass is
BEADG.
6 Strings
6 string bass guitars allow the player to extend the upper range of the instrument by adding a higher 6th string
usually tuned to C. Standard tuning for a 6 strung bass is BEADGC.
8 Strings
8 string bass guitars have four pairs of strings tuned in octaves like a 12 string guitar. Standard tuning is EADG
with each string having a lighter gauge string tuned to the same note, but an octave higher. Schecter® and Dean ®are
two companies that offer 8 string models.
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Fretless
Fretless bass guitars appeal to players looking for the subtle nuances of an upright bass. The absence of frets
requires precise technique, but it enables the player to produce quarter tones that fretted instrument can not replicate.
These quarter tones produce a glissando effect similar to an upright bass.
Active and Passive Electronics
Bass guitars with active electronics provide higher output and give the player more tonal control, but they
require a battery to power the preamp section. Basses with passive electronics usually have a more basic control
configuration but eliminate the need to worry about battery life.
Left Handed
Left handed bass guitars are available but just like left handed electric guitars, choice of models can be limited
and cost can be somewhat higher.
Hollow Body
Hollow body basses produce a more mellow tone than solid bodies, but feedback can be a problem at loud volume levels. To combat this problem, some manufacturers offer semi-hollow models which have a solid block of wood
in the center of the body. Gretsch® and Epiphone® offer hollow body bass guitars, and the Hofner® Beatle Bass is
probably the most famous hollow body bass of all.
Acoustic/Electric Bass
When choosing an acoustic/electric bass, use the same criteria that you would use to choose an acoustic/electric
guitar. Look for instruments that use solid tonal woods such as spruce, mahogany, rosewood, cedar or maple. Make
sure that the action is low and that the neck feels comfortable in your hand. Acoustic/electric bass guitars employ
Piezo pickups, coupled with a preamp, to amplify the sound. Better models will have controls that allow you to adjust
the volume, and equalization to control feedback. CF Martin®, Dean®, Fender®, Ibanez®, Ovation®
and others all make fine acoustic/electric basses. Left handed and 5 string models are also available.
Upright Bass
The upright bass is also referred to as a double bass, or string bass. The instrument is tuned the
same as a bass guitar EADG. Beginners usually start with a plywood bass. Brands such as Palatino®,
D'Carlo®, and Avalon® have a surprisingly good sound even though they are made with laminated
woods. More professional instruments are made of solid carved wood. Tops are made of spruce, and back
and sides are made of maple. Better models have fret boards made of ebony for durability. Smaller sizes
are available for younger students. The ¾ upright is the size that older players use. The larger 4/4
uprights are normally reserved for orchestral settings. The upright bass is usually the choice of bluegrass
and jazz musicians. The instrument can be amplified with a microphone or with a pickup installed on the
bridge.
A modern innovation for upright players is the electronic upright bass, also referred to as a stick
bass. A stick bass is basically a full size neck with a very small body. This reduces size and weight, and
eliminates feedback. Companies such as Palatino® and Dean® make good sounding, playable electronic
upright basses that are both versatile and portable.
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Bluegrass/Countr y/Folk
Banjos
5 Strings
The most popular banjo is the 5 string. The instrument is played using two finger picks and a thumb pick.
Various tunings can be used, but the most popular is open-G (GDGBD). This is the style that most people associate
with bluegrass music. As with any stringed instrument, it should have good action. A good banjo will also be heavier
than a cheaper one. Weight is a sign that it has a heavy tone ring and resonator which will
really let the instrument ring out. Banjos can also be highly ornamented with fancy inlays,
and that kind of detail can add to the cost.
4 Strings
The 4 string banjo is designed mainly for strumming. It's usually tuned like a man(GDAE). The tenor banjo has been around much longer than its 5 string
dolin or fiddle (CGDA).
cousin, and it was extremely popular in the 20's and 30's. Many high quality older instruments are still available in good condition today. Brand new models can also still be had.
Again, low action and a good weight are things to look for.
Mandolins
The mandolin is an eight stringed instrument configured in four pairs of doubled strings. It is
tuned the same as a violin GDAE. There are several types to choose from. The bowl back mandolin
came to us from Europe, but today it has faded in popularity due to its awkward body style. The A
style features a flat or carved back and has a round sound hole. The F style mandolin is the most popular and the most widely seen by people today. It's distinguished by two f-holes in the top, and a highly
carved scroll on the upper bout of the instrument. The back is also carved, and many have intricate
inlay work. As with any acoustic instrument, the action and types of wood used in construction are of
paramount concern. Cheaper mandolins will be made with laminated woods, and these are fine for the
beginner. Better mandolins will usually have a solid spruce top, and highly figured maple back, sides
and neck. These solid tonal woods let the mandolin really ring out or bark as some players like to say.
Resonator Guitars
A resonator guitar is basically an acoustic guitar with a round metal resonator installed
in the top to amplify the sound. They come in several styles. Round necks can be played like a guitar,
or played with a bottleneck slide. Square necks are designed to be flipped up into a horizontal
position and are played with a steel slide bar. Models with steel bodies produce a more metallic
sound. Ones made with wooden bodies, while still producing a metallic sound, are a bit more
mellow. Blues players prefer the round neck models, while bluegrass pickers prefer the
square necks.
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Autoharps
This is an instrument that a novice can begin playing immediately.
The autoharp is a 36 stringed instrument that is played by pressing down a
chord bar that deadens certain strings but let's the others ring out to produce
a chord. They come in 12, 15 or 21 chord models. Most people have fun just
strumming away, but more advanced players can do some fancy picking.
Lap Steel
Lap steels usually come in six or eight string models. Some models have legs, but most people prefer to lay
them across their lap. The instrument is played with a steel bar and is fitted with a pickup so that it can be plugged
into an amplifier. They were originally referred to as Hawaiian guitars, and they are the forerunner of the modern
pedal steel guitar.
Pedal Steel
While the pedal steel guitar is closely identified with country music, it is
also used in many other musical styles. The modern pedal steel can be fitted with
one or two necks. The necks can have 10 or 12 strings each. Single necks are usually tuned to E9, sometimes referred to as Nashville tuning. The second neck is
usually tuned to C6. The number of pedals and knee levers vary, and many players customize the instrument to suit their personal style.
Dulcimer
The Dulcimer is a folk instrument usually associated with the Appalachian area. It comes in several different
shapes and styles. It has three or four strings and is held flat across the lap or placed on a table. One hand picks the
notes, while the other hand presses down the strings. Sometimes a wooden dowel is used to fret the instrument.
Celtic Harp
The Celtic Harp sometimes referred to as a Folk Harp or Lever Harp, comes in several
sizes with the number of strings ranging from 19 to 40. They usually have nylon strings, but
metal and gut strings are sometimes used. The strings are plucked with the hands. The instrument is equipped with a set of levers that can shorten one or more strings. When activated, the
lever raises the string by a semitone.
Bass Fiddle
In Bluegrass or Folk music, the upright bass is usually referred to as a Bass Fiddle or
Doghouse Bass. It is tuned the same as a bass guitar EADG. The ¾ size bass is the one that is
used by most adults. Smaller sizes are available for young students. There is a 4/4 size bass,
but because of its size it is generally used only in orchestral situations, and is often bowed. In
Bluegrass and Folk, the bass is plucked with the fingers. Strings can be metal or gut, or a combination of both. As with all string instruments, those made with solid woods will produce
more volume and a better tone.
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Cymbals
Overview
When choosing cymbals, stick with major name brands such as Zildjian®, Sabian®, Paiste®, and Meinl®.
These major manufacturers all offer good quality cymbals in a variety of price ranges. You can choose between starter
packs, intermediate cymbals, and professional grade cymbals. If you are buying a starter drum set, and the cymbals are
included, pay particular attention to the flex of the cymbals. If they bend easily in your hand, they will eventually dent,
and need to be replaced. Some intermediate drum kits do come with cymbals and these are usually serviceable and
functional for players at this level. Professional drum sets do not come with cymbals. In order to achieve their own signature sound, professional players prefer to choose their own cymbal setup. Depending on your budget and level of
skill, buy the best cymbals that you can afford. Even lower priced drums can be made to sound decent with the right
drum heads, proper tuning, and the correct treatment to control overtones, but there is nothing that can be done to
improve the sound of a cheap cymbal.
Shopping for cymbals can be a confusing task because of all the varieties to choose from. Size, weight, bell
shape, curvature, and playing style all play a role in determining which cymbal is the proper choice.
Size
The smaller the cymbal, the higher the pitch it will produce, while larger cymbals will produce more volume
and longer sustain.
Weight
Thinner crash cymbals respond fast, and produce an explosive full sound, and
thin rides blend in well with the music. However, thin cymbals are best used in situations
that require lower to moderate volumes. Thin cymbals do not have the durability to stand
up to heavy hitting, heavier cymbals are more durable, and produce a louder sound.
Thicker crashes cut through the mix, and heavier rides and hi-hats provide more stick
definition. Medium weight cymbals provide all around versatility, and many drummers
like to mix cymbal weights to get just the right setup that they are looking for. As a general rule, Jazz drummers will play lighter weight cymbals, while heavy hitting Rock
drummers go for the heavier cymbals for more volume, sustain, and durability.
Bell Shape
The shape of the bell effects the sound of the entire cymbal. Cymbals with larger bells are louder than those
with smaller bells. The bell itself provides another distinct playing area. Usually played with the butt end of the stick,
the bell produces a bright, clear tone that cuts through the mix.
Curvature
The curvature of a cymbal is also referred to as its taper or profile. A cymbal with a smaller curvature, or
flatter profile, will produce a lower pitch. A cymbal with a more exaggerated curvature, or a higher profile, will
produce a brighter more cutting sound.
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Testing and Selecting
Make sure you choose a professional music store when shopping for a cymbal. A professional store will have a
large selection of cymbals on hand, and a knowledgeable staff to assist you. Don't be shy. Tapping a cymbal with your
finger tip will not give you a true picture of what that cymbal really sounds like. Ask to put the cymbal on a stand, and
angle it the way you would normally. Use a drum stick, and hit the cymbal as hard as you would in a real performance
situation. If you are voicing a cymbal to blend in with the rest of your setup, it's a good idea to bring your own cymbals into the store for comparison purposes.
Cymbal Packs
The major cymbal manufactures all offer starter and intermediate cymbal packs. These packs are voiced at the
factory for compatibility, and they are functional and durable. Price will indicate the level of quality. The most basic
beginners pack will include a pair of hi-hat cymbals, and a larger crash/ride cymbal that serves both purposes. A complete cymbal set would include a pair of hi-hats, a crash, and a separate ride cymbal. This is the basic setup that an
intermediate drummer needs. Special effect add on packages are also available. These usually consist of a splash and
a china cymbal. Professional cymbals are normally sold individually, not in packages.
Types of Cymbals
Ride Cymbals
The ride is the drummer's main cymbal for setting the
rhythm. Lighter models are good for lower volume, and
blending with the music. Heavier models are louder, more
durable, and produce more stick articulation. The bell area on
a ride cymbal produces a distinct, bright sound. Sizes range
from 18" to 24". The most popular sizes are 20" and 22".
Crash Cymbals
Crash cymbals range in size from 13" to 19". Crash cymbals are used for accents. Larger models will have
more volume and sustain. Thinner crash cymbals have a quick attack, but durability can be a problem for heavy hitters.
Heavier models are more powerful, and cut through the mix. Most drummers play with several crash cymbals, and it
is important that they are voiced to compliment one another.
Hi-Hats
Hi-Hat cymbals are sold in pairs, and are voiced at the factory for compatibility. The bottom cymbal will be
heavier than the top cymbal, and they will be marked accordingly. Sizes range from 12" to 15", with 14" Hats being
the most popular. Hats can be played closed for a tighter more articulate sound, or open for a fuller sound. As with all
cymbals, larger hats will produce more volume and better stick articulation. Some models have the edge of the bottom
cymbal crimped to prevent air lock
Splash Cymbals
Splash cymbals are small accent cymbals that have a fast attack and a short sustain. They range in size from 6"
to 12" and produce a bright punchy sound with a short duration.
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China Cymbals
China cymbals are special effect cymbals that produce a dirty, trashy sound. They feature upturned edges, and
are usually mounted upside down so that stick strokes will not bend the edges. They can be used as splash cymbals,
crashes, or rides. Sizes range anywhere from 8" to 20".
Gongs
Gongs range in size from 24" to 40". Traditionally they are hand hammered and suspended from a gong stand.
When struck they produce a strong fundamental tone, followed by dark complex overtones. They can also be played
by rapid, repeated short hits to build up to an ear splitting crescendo. Naturally, the larger the gong, the more volume
it will produce.
DJ
Overview
DJs have been around since the early days of Rock & Roll. Local AM and FM radio stations featured on-air
disc jockeys who often became local celebrities. While live bands supplied the music for most venues back in the 50s
and 60s, radio disc jockeys also began appearing at local teen centers to spin records while the kids danced. DJs really
came into their own in the 1970s when the Disco music craze swept the country.
Since that time, DJs have evolved to the point where they are the main providers of music at many venues.
While live bands are still out there performing, more and more venues have found DJs to be an attractive alternative.
One of the biggest factors for the popularity of DJs is their ability to bring a vast selection of music to any venue that
far surpasses the amount of material that any live band could possibly have on their song list.
While the early DJs made a few announcements, and just spun records, today's modern DJs have evolved into
exciting performers who often create their own mixes, and who often Rap and sing along with the music that they are
playing.
There are many different types of DJs. Some DJs specialize in Karaoke, while others concentrate on providing
the music at weddings. There are amateur DJs who have fun just playing the music at their own private parties, and
professional club DJs who pump out the music that drives the beat at the hottest dance clubs in town. Other DJs can
tailor their performance and song selection to a variety of venues and social occasions.
As DJs have evolved, so has their equipment. While vinyl is still in use, many DJs have turned to digital form
ats such as CDs or MP3s because of their storage capacity and portability. Others use Apple® iPods, and laptop computers to archive their musical selections. Turntables, CD players, mixers,
DJ software, sound systems, and lighting are all constantly evolving to
meet the needs of today's DJs.
DJ equipment is subject to a lot of wear and tear, so make sure
you choose professional equipment from manufacturers such as American
DJ®, Pioneer®, Numark®, and Stanton®. Professional equipment will
pay for itself in the long run by giving you years of reliable service.
Turntables
It all started with vinyl. Original DJ rigs consisted of two turntables and a mixer. In a club, this type of setup
would be located in a DJ booth, while mobile DJs transported their systems in containers referred to as coffin cases.
Vinyl is still popular with many DJs who believe that vinyl records have a superior sound, and who prefer the familiarity
of working with turntables. Some DJs also use a combination of vinyl and digital material during their performance.
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The average consumer turntable is not suitable for DJ applications. Many are belt driven, and slow to attain full
speed. They are also fragile, and unable to stand up to the rigors of a DJ performance. To a vinyl DJ, the turntable is
his instrument, and he literally plays it hands-on to achieve the desired scratching and juggling effects that make his
performance uniquely his own.
A professional DJ turntable needs to be direct drive so that the platter can reach the proper speed almost instantaneously. Instead of the rubber mat found on consumer turntables, DJs use slip mats to reduce the friction between the
vinyl record and the spinning platter. This allows the DJ to manipulate the record by touching it with his hands to
achieve a scratching effect. He can also simultaneously manipulate the crossfader on his mixer to blend in other beats
or parts of songs to create a juggling effect.
A professional turntable will feature a high-torque direct-drive motor, and also be able to play at variable
speeds. Tone arms can be straight or curved, and a few models even come with both types of tone arms so that the DJ
can select the one that fits his own personal style. It's also important to use a professional cartridge and stylus that are
designed specifically for heavy duty DJ use.
There are some drawbacks to using vinyl records. Mobile DJs have to haul crates of records to transport their
vinyl library from job to job. Vinyl records are also subject to wear, especially when undergoing manipulation during
a DJ performance. For those who would like to convert their vinyl collection to CDs or MP3 files, there are some modern
turntables that feature USB outputs which allow a DJ to easily transfer any vinyl recordings over to a digital format.
CD Players
CD players come in two styles; dual rack mount CD players, and
tabletop CD players. Rack mount CD players consist of two units. One
unit functions as a dual CD player, while the other unit is the controller
for the dual CD player. Rack mount CD players have jog or shuttle
wheels that can be used for scratching, pitch bend, and search.
Many DJs like the rack mount style CD players because they can
be housed in a single case along with a power amp and any signal processors for convenience and portability. Normally, rack mount CD players
are mounted in an over-under rack. The dual CD deck, power amps, and signal processors are mounted in the lower
portion of the rack, while the DJ mixer and dual CD controller are mounted in the slanted top part of the rack for easy
accessibility.
Tabletop CD players are usually placed on a flat surface with the DJ mixer positioned between the two units.
Often, the entire system is housed in a small coffin case for easy set-up and portability. Tabletop CD players are
equipped with small pressure sensitive platters that allow for scratching techniques similar to those used when dealing
with a turntable.
Professional versions of either type of CD player will feature anti-shock buffered skip protection. A buffered
memory prevents the music from skipping if the CD player is bumped, or vibrated by sub woofer cabinets. Professional
CD players will also feature pitch bend, looping, and some also offer special effects.
DJ Mixers
A professional DJ mixer is designed to handle inputs from microphones, turntables, CD players, tape decks,
and other line level sources. To handle these different components, the mixer will be equipped with ¼ ", XLR, and
RCA connectors. The Phono inputs will have preamps to boost the phono signal up to line level. A grounding post will
also be supplied for the turntables to reduce hum. The outputs of the mixer are designed to send the signal out to the
sound system.
DJ mixers are equipped with multiple channels, with each channel having its own fader. Line selector switches
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enable the DJ to switch the channel input from line level to phono, or
to switch between two different line level signals. A cue function lets
the DJ listen to an upcoming selection through headphones, while the
audience is hearing the current selection that is being played. A cross
fader allows the DJ to fade out the current selection and to fade in the
next selection. Better mixers will have a BPM counter (beats per
minute) to allow the crossfade to occur while maintaining the same
beat. Because crossfaders are subject to a lot of wear and tear, professional mixers have crossfaders that are easily replaceable.
Aside from channel faders and crossfaders, DJ mixers also
have master faders that control the sound level that is being sent to the
sound system. Some DJ mixers have channel trim knobs that can control the sensitivity of the channel inputs. Others feature onboard special effects, insert jacks, and EQ sections. Some mixers feature kill switches on the EQ section which allow the DJ to
momentarily drop out certain frequencies to customize his performance. Another handy feature is a talkover button or
switch that when activated drops down the volume of the music while the DJ is talking or making announcements.
Packaged Systems
Packaged DJ systems come in various configurations, and they can simplify the buying process. A basic system
might come with two CD players, a mixer, headphones and cabling. Other packaged systems have the CD players and
mixer housed in a sturdy road case for protection and portability. Some even offer iPod docking stations that allow a
DJ to select a song on his iPod, and then feed that signal directly into the DJ mixer.
As software based DJ systems are becoming ever more popular, there are also packaged systems available that
provide software, an audio interface, and a control surface to manipulate the software within a PC.
Unless you are very knowledgeable about pro
sound, it is probably not a good idea to buy a packaged
system that includes power amps and speaker enclosures. The sound system that you will need to properly
present your music will vary from venue to venue, and
also vary depending on what type of DJ or Karaoke
show that you are putting on. A DJ doing weddings and
small parties will need a sound system that is much different than one that is necessary for a DJ who works the
clubs.
Sound systems can be complicated. Your best
approach to choosing a sound system for your DJ rig is
to head down to your favorite professional music store
and consult with a pro sound specialist who will be able
to help you select a sound system that is appropriate for your needs. It is important to find a sound tech that you are
comfortable working with. Once you establish a relationship, stick with that person. The more they get to know about
you and your equipment, the better they will be able to guide you as you make your equipment purchases.
Software
DJ systems are in transition. DJ mixers, turntables, and CD players are increasingly giving way to software,
interfaces, and digital-media controllers. As technology has advanced, many DJs are recognizing the convenience of a
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computer-based DJ system. With all of their music stored in a laptop, there is no need to drag around crates of vinyl or
boxes of CDs.
Once you have loaded your music collection into your laptop, DJ software programs allow you to control and
manipulate the material via several different options. If you are a vinyl DJ, special time-coded vinyl records are available that can be played on regular turntables. Some software programs even include time-coded vinyl records. A DJ
can use these special vinyl records to scratch just like he would with regular vinyl.
To accomplish this, the turntables need to be plugged into an audio interface. The interface transmits midi
information via USB from the time-coded vinyl to the software in the laptop. By manipulating the time-coded record,
the DJ can then experience the familiar hands-on control that he is used to when working with vinyl.
An audio interface is a two way street. Besides sending information into the computer, it also uses D/A
(digital/audio) converters to send the song back to the DJ mixer for further manipulation there. This lets a DJ use a
familiar DJ mixer of his choice.
For those DJs who are familiar with using the jog wheels on a traditional CD player, a USB MIDI digital controller may be the best choice. Control surfaces such as this eliminate the need for an audio interface, and can be connected directly to a computer. The jog wheels are usually touch sensitive, and the layout of the controller provides the
DJ with a familiar, intuitive feel as he mixes and performs scratch, cue, and search functions.
New controllers are coming on the market that feature an integrated computer, and software that are built right
into the controller. This eliminates the need for a laptop, or audio interface. These controllers can play and mix music
directly from most mass storage devices.
Sound Systems
No matter what hardware or software a DJ chooses, a sound system is needed to amplify and project his music.
As mentioned previously, sound systems can be complicated, and unless you are a seasoned professional, you are
going to need the help and advice of the sound techs at your favorite music store. They will help you match amplifiers
and speaker enclosures as to the proper wattage and ohms load. They may also be able to suggest some useful signal
processors to enhance your system.
Mobile DJs need to consider the size and weight of the sound system for practical portability. Club systems that
are permanently installed can use larger and heavier components without that concern. Most DJ sound systems can
benefit from the use of a subwoofer cabinet. A subwoofer can provide the thump to a performance that lets the audience feel the music as well as hear it.
For more detailed information on sound systems, refer to the Pro Sound section.
Lighting
Lighting is a must for any serious DJ. A club lighting system can be more extensive, but lighting stands and
trusses let mobile DJs take their lighting shows on the road. Like sound systems, lighting systems can be complicated.
A good lighting system will employ a combination of wash lighting and special effect lighting that is operated by a
lighting controller. Often fog machines are used to visually enhance the light show.
More sophisticated lighting fixtures are referred to as intelligent lighting, and these can be programmed to perform multiple functions. For more in depth information, refer to the Lighting section.
Headphones
All DJs need a good set of headphones. They are a necessity for cuing up the next song selection while the current song is playing. DJ headphones need to be comfortable and durable. Some DJs prefer headphones with just one
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earpiece. This lets them hear the current selection while at the same time being able to hear the next selection that they
are cuing up. In loud volume situations, closed-back headphones may be preferable for providing isolation when cuing
up the next song. Another solution is to use headphones that have swivel earpieces. By turning one earpiece to the
side, the DJ can use just one earpiece for cuing up, or quickly put on both earpieces if he needs more isolation.
For more information on headphones, refer to headphones under the Recording section.
Microphones
Microphones are another consideration for DJs. A wireless headset mic can be a good choice. A headset mic
frees up the DJs hands for mixing, juggling, and scratching. A good quality headset mic can also be used for rapping
or singing along with the music.
Mobile DJs should also have a wireless handheld microphone as part of their system. This can be used for
audience members to make announcements, such as the best man's toast at a wedding reception.
Karaoke DJs usually travel with several microphones. Often they will use a high quality microphone for their
personal use, but use less expensive mics for the performers who come up on stage. This eliminates the risk of an
amateur performer dropping an expensive microphone and ruining it.
For a more comprehensive look at microphones, refer to the Microphone section.
Drums
Your First Drum Set
Drum sets for beginners are available in 3, 4, or 5 piece kits. Your best bet is to choose a 5 piece set. That configuration includes a bass drum, a snare drum, 2 ride toms, and a floor tom. This is the basic set up that most drummers use. If you buy a smaller kit, you may have difficulty trying to add more drums later because of problems with
availability, color matching, and hardware mounting. A good beginner's set will cost between $350 and $500. Some
reliable brands to look for are WJM®, Rockwood®, and CB Percussion®. You could also consider buying a used set
from a name brand manufacturer such as Pearl®, Tama®,
Ludwig®, Gretsch®, or Pacific®. Companies such as these sell
the parts to keep your set up and running, and also offer individual drums if you want to expand your set. If you decide to buy a
used kit, make sure you purchase it from a professional music
store that offers a warranty.
Beginning drum sets are made of select woods, meaning
inexpensive woods. This makes them more affordable than drum
sets that use tonal woods such as maple and birch. Several plys
of laminated wood are used to form the drum shell, and the shell
is usually covered with a laminate wrap. Most drum sets come
with the hardware you'll need, and this should include a foot
pedal, a snare stand, a hi-hat stand, and one or more cymbal
stands. If you see a set advertised as a shell pack, which means it
has no hardware, you will have the added cost of buying the necessary hardware separately. Drum hardware is subject to a lot of
wear and tear. Select a set with heavier, double braced hardware
for durability and longevity.
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To complete your kit, you will also need a set of cymbals. If cymbals are not included in the price, you will need
to purchase them separately. A complete cymbal package would include a ride, a crash, and a pair of hi-hat cymbals.
Some basic sets include just a pair of hi-hats and a single crash/ride cymbal that serves both functions. A decent cymbal
should not flex too easily in your hands. If it does, it is going to bend and dent quickly when hit with a drum stick.
Intermediate and Professional Sets
Major drum companies such as Pearl® and Tama® offer both
intermediate and professional drum sets. Intermediate drum sets are in
the $700 to $1000 price range. They are a great choice for serious beginners, hobbyists, and students who want to step up from a starter kit.
These high quality, reasonably priced sets are also perfect for garage
bands, and those performing as weekend warriors. The 5 piece configuration is the most popular, but extra toms or an extra bass drum can be
added to expand the tonal range of the kit.
Professional kits are the choice of advanced players who demand
top quality sound and performance. These types of drum sets start around
$1500 and go up from there. Players need to consider the configuration
of the set, the construction of the drum shells, and which kind of finish suits their taste.
The number of drums used to configure the set is a personal choice. Jazz drummers may prefer a smaller compact set, while others lean toward the monster sets seen on stage at rock concerts. Finish is also a personal choice.
Some prefer a solid color, while others might choose a beautiful wood finish, or even a glitter finish.
The construction of the drum shells is what will determine the desired sound. Drums made with fewer plys produce a good tone, but are not as loud. Thicker shells use more plys, and produce more volume. The choice of wood
also effects the sound. Maple shells produce a well rounded sound which is fairly balanced between lows, mids and
highs. Birch shells produce a brighter sound with a more articulated high end that makes them a popular choice for
recording. Mahogany shells produce a warm, full sound, with an emphasis on the bottom end. Some companies offer
composite shells which are made of plys from several different kinds of tonal woods.
Hand Drums and Percussion
There are many types of hand drums from different cultures around the world. Some of the most common are
congas, bongos, djembes, and doumbeks. Companies such as Latin Percussion®, Toca®, and Remo® all produce
quality drums.
Conga Drums
Conga drums are made from various types of wood or fiberglass. They can be
played singly, in pairs, or in sets of three or more. As with any drum, the size of the
drum will determine its tone. Larger drums will have a lower pitch. Smaller drums produce a higher pitch. Fiberglass congas are durable and less expensive to make, but many
professionals prefer wooden congas for their richer tone.
A pair of conga drums usually consists of a tumba and a conga. A set of three
usually consists of a tumba, a conga and a quinto. The tumba is the lowest pitch, the
conga is in the middle, and the quinto is the highest pitch. Heads are made from animal skins, so some discoloration is
normal. Congas can be tuned with a wrench, and better models have curved rims to make it easier on the hands when
playing the drum.
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Bongo Drums
Bongo drums are usually sold in pairs, although sets of three are also available.
They can either be played on a stand, or played while sitting down and holding the
drums between the knees. They are available in either wood or fiberglass. Heads are
usually made from animal skins, but some synthetic heads are also available. Cheaper
bongos are not tunable, and heads are difficult if not impossible to replace. Higher
quality bongos can be tuned with a key or a wrench, and replacement heads are available. Better models will also have fitted cast aluminum bottom rims.
Djembes
The djembe drum originated in Africa and is traditionally hand carved, and string tuned.
Heads are made of animal skins. This traditional style is still preferred by many players, but modern technology has also enabled djembe makers to offer steel rims, synthetic heads, and key tuning. Djembes are usually 12" to 18" in diameter, but smaller sizes are also available. The djembe
produces three primary notes, referred to as bass, tone and slap. The bass sound is produced by
striking the drum in the middle. The tone and slap sounds are produced by hitting the drum closer
to the rim. Advanced players can also coax some additional tones from the instrument. Toca®,
Remo®, and Latin Percussion® all produce high quality djembes.
Doumbeks
The doumbek drum originated in the Middle East. It is smaller and more delicate than the djembe, and is played with a lighter touch. It produces a bass tone when struck in the center, and a higher
pitch tone when hit closer to the edge. The drum can also be played with the finger tips to produce
quick rolls, or patterns. Heads can be made from animal skin, or synthetic material. The drum itself
can be made of ceramic, wood, metal, or fiberglass.
Timbales
Timbales are usually sold in pairs, and stand mounted. They have metal
shells that are made of steel, bronze, or brass. Steel shells produce a bright, crisp
sound, while brass shells have a warmer sound. Bronze shells produce a distinctive
cutting sound. Smaller sets are called timbalitos, and larger sets are referred to as
thunder timbs. Timbales use regular drum heads, are key tuned, and are usually
played with thin wooden sticks designed specifically for timbales. Normally, a cowbell holder is attached to the stand to allow the player to mount one or more cowbells, wood blocks, or jam blocks. Mini timbales are also available, and can be used as an addition to a standard
acoustic drum set. Top name brands include Latin Percussion®, Matador®, Aspire®, Toca®, Tama®, and Pearl®.
Rototoms
Designed by Remo®, rototoms use a unique rapid tuning system to allow the drums to be tuned to a different
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pitch instantly. Turning the drum tightens or loosens the head, which then raises or lowers the pitch. Stand mounted,
they are usually sold in sets of three. The most popular configuration is 6", 8", and 10". They use regular drum heads,
and are played with regular drum sticks. Rototoms are a great addition to any percussion set up, or drum kit.
Hand Percussion
There is a huge variety of hand held percussion instruments. Maracas, wood blocks, claves, guiros, cowbells,
tambourines, and shakers of all types and sizes are just a few of your options. Latin Percussion® is the leader when it
comes to hand percussion effects. To see a complete selection, log onto www.BillsMusic.com
Marching Drums
The drum line is the backbone of any marching band, and it is the section that keeps the tempo for the rest of
the group. A drum line usually consists of snare drums, tenor drums, and bass drums. The weight of the drums is an
important consideration, especially for younger players. Pearl® offers high quality professional marching drums, and
Pro Beat® is a company that makes good quality, reasonably priced drums for the more budget conscious.
Snare Drums
Marching snare drums are deeper than snare drums used in standard drum kits. The deeper drum produces a
louder volume. They are usually 10" to 14" deep with head sizes of 13" or 14". They are tuned to a high tension, and
use stranded wire or gut snares stretched across the bottom head. Marching snares are ether carried with a sling or a
light weight aluminum carrier. Leg rests are available to keep the drum from bouncing against the body. To provide
increased volume, players use marching sticks that are larger than standard drum sticks.
Tenor Drums
Tenor drums, also referred to as toms, can be played individually, or in sets known as trios, quads, or quints.
They fill in the tonal range between the high pitched snares, and the lower pitched bass drums. Individual tenor drums
are similar in size to marching snare drums. They employ both a top and bottom head, and are carried either with a
sling or an aluminum carrier.
Tenor drums used in trios, quads, or quints do not have bottom heads. They range in sizes from 8" to 13". The
various sizes produce different pitches, and when grouped together they provide a melodic rhythmic sound. The shells
are not as deep as standard tenor drums, and often the bottom rims are scalloped to allow the sound to project forward.
Trios, quads, and quints are tuned to higher pitches than standard tenor drums. They are carried with aluminum
carriers designed to support multiple drum configurations. Tenor drums can be played with either sticks or mallets.
Bass Drums
Marching bass drums come in various sizes, usually between 16" and 32". Some bands use a combination of
different sizes to achieve more complex rhythm patterns. The player uses a harness or lightweight carrier to support the
drum while it is being carried. The drum is usually played with mallets, but wooden bass drum sticks are also available.
Electronic Drums
An electronic drum set consists of a set of pads that are mounted on a rack, and then plugged into a sound module. Early electronic pads were made with hard surfaces that took a toll on a drummer's hands and wrists. More modern
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drum pads are made of softer rubber or mesh, and are much more comfortable to play. Mesh pads can even be tensioned
with a key, and provide a more realistic feel. Some sets include dual trigger pads which produce one sound when struck
in the center, and a different sound when played closer to the edge. One such example would be a snare sound in the center, and a rim shot near the edge. Cymbal pads are also available, and bass drum and hi-hat triggers complete the set.
Electronic sets are extremely portable, and are compact on stage. They can be amplified with a dedicated drum
amplifier, or plugged into the main sound system. Electronic drums eliminate the need for microphones during live
performances. This allows the drums to be played at loud volume levels without the problems of feedback or bleed though that occur when
using microphones. They can also be played using headphones. This
enables a drummer to practice at anytime without disturbing the neighbors, or the rest of the household. In the recording studio, they can be
plugged directly into the board, eliminating the need for time consuming microphone placement.
The sound module allows the drummer to contour the set to his
personal tastes. Any number of sounds can be assigned to an individual pad, and the pads can then be configured into different drum kits.
Drum modules contain a number of factory preset kits, but also allow
the drummer to create his own programmable kits. With hundreds of
onboard sounds, the player can switch kits instantly with just the touch
of a button. The sound module also allows the drummer to add effects, and to trigger non drum sounds such as orchestral hits, or other instruments. Yamaha®, Roland®, and Alesis® all make high quality electronic kits.
Hardware
Drum hardware is subject to a lot of abuse. You should buy the heaviest hardware that you can afford. Stands
that have double braced legs offer the most stability. Hi-hat pedals and foot pedals are in constant use, and players
that move from venue to venue are continually setting up and tearing down their kits. Small parts are bound to suffer
from every day wear and tear. It is best to buy name brand hardware from manufacturers such as Pearl®, Tama® or
Gibraltar®. These companies offer the necessary replacement parts to keep your kit up and running.
Basic Hardware for a set would include a snare stand, hi-hat stand, a foot pedal, one or more cymbal stands, a
double tom mount, and a drum throne.
Snare Stands are designed to hold the drum at the proper angle, and at just the right height. They have claw
like arms that grip the drum firmly to hold it in position.
Hi-hat stands are used to clap the two hi-hat cymbals together. The bottom cymbal is placed on the seat of the
hi-hat stand with the flat side facing up. The top cymbal is attached to the upper rod with a clutch, flat side down, with
a small space left between the two cymbals. When the pedal is activated, the top cymbal moves up and down to strike
the bottom cymbal. Sticks are also used to play the cymbals in either the open or closed positions.
Foot Pedals are used to play the bass drum. A tensioning mechanism allows the player to adjust the action of
the pedal to suit his personal taste. Beaters can be wooden, felt, or acrylic. A harder beater produces a louder sound.
The face of the beater can be either rounded or flat. The pedal moves the beater by means of a strap or chain.
Double bass drum pedals use two beaters that are activated by a pair of pedals. The twin beaters strike a single
drum, but at different intervals. This gives the effect of having a double bass drum set, but only uses one drum. This
set up eliminates the cost of buying an extra bass drum, saves room on stage, and eliminates the hassle of transporting
another large drum.
Cymbal Stands can be either regular straight stands, or boom stands. Boom stands have an extra arm that
allows the cymbal to be placed closer to the drummer. There are also convertible stands that can be configured either
as a straight stand, or as a boom stand. Smaller cymbal stand arms can also be attached to other pieces of hardware
by means of a double clamp.
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Double Tom Holders attach the ride toms to the bass drum. This piece of gear takes a lot of abuse. Choose one
that is heavy duty. Most units have two extending arms that are inserted into receiver units mounted on the side of the
ride toms. Another increasingly popular method of mounting the toms is called rim mounting. This type of tom holder
suspends the drums by their rims. This eliminates the need for receiver units on the ride toms, and allows the drums to
resonate more freely.
Drum Thrones are important for the players comfort. They need to be sturdy and well padded. Seats can be
round, or shaped like a bicycle seat. Some thrones have optional back rests. Thrones can be adjusted to either a fixed
position, or allowed to swivel. Height adjustments let the drummer choose just the right playing position.
Drum Racks provide an option where the toms and cymbals are mounted directly to the rack. This eliminates
the need for floor stands. Drum racks increase portability, and also reduce set up and tear down time
Sticks
The style of sticks that a player selects is a personal choice. The sticks should feel balanced and comfortable in
your hands. Usually the diameter or the thickness of the stick is the first consideration when determining the right feel,
but length, weight, shaft taper, tip size, the type of wood, and the finish all figure into the final decision. Signature
sticks are also available that are made to the exact specifications of leading artists. Experimentation is required to find
the model that is just right for you.
Another consideration is the style of music that you will be
playing. Jazz players usually prefer a lighter stick like a 7A. The most
popular choice among drummers is 5A, while hard hitting rock drummers usually like a beefier stick like 2B or 5B. Marching drummers
prefer very thick sticks such as a 3S. Thicker sticks produce more volume than thinner sticks. Most teachers recommend that students start
with a heavier stick like a 2B to build up the muscles in the hands and
wrists.
Companies such as Pro Mark®, Vic Firth®, Regal Tip®,
Vater®, and Zildjian®, all offer high quality drum sticks. To increase
longevity, professional sticks are made from harder woods such as oak,
hickory, and maple. They can be lacquered or left unfinished. To
improve their grip, some players wear drummer's gloves, or wrap the sticks with stick tape. Sticks are also available
with wood or nylon tips. Wood tips have a warmer sound, while nylon tips produce a brighter, more articulated sound.
When selecting sticks, most drummers prefer to roll them on a flat surface to make sure that the sticks are not warped.
Aside from drum sticks, brushes and rods are also available. Drummers use brushes for a softer sound in more
laid back musical selections. The fan end of the brushes can be metal or nylon. Brushes can have either fixed position
handles, or can be retractable to protect the fan ends from damage. Rods are made from wooden dowels that are
banded together. The dowels are available in various sizes. The thicker the individual dowels, the louder they are.
They produce a volume somewhere between sticks and brushes.
Mallets are also available, and come in many varieties. Mallet heads can be made of hard materials like brass
or nylon, or they can be wrapped in softer material like yarn or felt. The harder the material is, the louder the sound
produced. Keyboard percussionists, such as marimba players, can choose between a hard mallet, or a softer yarn
wrapped style depending on the tone and volume that they prefer. Harder mallets are usually the choice of marching
groups. Timpani mallets, originally designed for orchestral use, are also used by drum kit players to achieve soft
cymbal rolls or tom crescendos.
Drum Heads
Most modern drum heads are made from a plastic known as Mylar. They can be single ply, or double ply. The
top drum head is referred to as the batter head, and the bottom head is called the resonant head. Clear heads produce a
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bright tone and resonance, while coated heads produce a warmer sound. For brush work, a coated textured snare head
is the best choice. Unlike other drum heads, a bottom snare head is paper thin and not designed to be played with a
stick. The thin bottom head is designed to increase the effect and resonance of the snare wires as they vibrate against it.
To tune a drum, tighten it to the desired tension. Using a stick, go around the drum striking it about two inches
in from each drum lug. Tighten or loosen the tension rods until the pitch is the same for all lugs. This insures that the
head is evenly tensioned, and that the drum is in tune. After tuning the batter head, use the same method to tune the
resonant head. The resonant head can be tuned the same, or higher or lower than the batter head. The tuning of the
resonant head will effect the resonance of the drum, and also stick response. Tuning the drums to pitch is a matter of
personal taste. Drums tuned to a lower pitch, produce more of a full sounding thud, a popular choice of Rock drummers. On the other hand, Jazz drummers like drums tuned to a higher pitch for a brighter, more articulated sound.
Tuning the drums in relation to each is a matter of personal choice. The pitch of each drum should descend in a melodic
pattern from the smallest tom down to the bass drum. The choice of pitch intervals is also a matter of personal taste,
and varies from drummer to drummer.
When a drum is hit, it produces its fundamental tone, but also annoying overtones. Single ply heads, while
sounding bright, and open, usually need some kind of dampening. The best place to start is by choosing the right head.
A free floating two ply head such as a Remo® Emperor will provide some dampening, but still sound bright, and provide increased durability. Pinstripe heads are also two ply, but have a dampening agent between the two plys just
around the edge. Hydraulic heads, like those made by Evans®, have a small amount of oil between the plys to eliminate overtones, and reduce sustain. Heads are also available that use foam attached to the underside of the drumhead,
or internal muffling rings to achieve the same effect. Dotted heads, also referred to as Controlled Sound heads use a
large Mylar dot on the top or bottom of the head to control overtones, and increase durability.
Other head treatments can also be applied. Moongels are small sticky gel pads about the size of a postage
stamp. Placed near the edge of the head they provide a surprising amount of dampening. Zero rings are made of Mylar,
and are placed loosely on top of the drum head around the outer edge to control overtones. Remo® Muffler Rings
provide even more dampening. They consist of a round plastic tray that holds a foam ring that is then placed on the
drum shell underneath the head. When the head is tightened down, the foam is pressed against the head to dampen it.
Bass drum heads should be selected using the same criteria as when choosing any other drum head and the tuning procedure is the same. However, different treatments are necessary to produce the desired tone. Once the batter
head is tuned, tune the front resonant head keeping in mind that the tension of the front head will effect pedal response.
Some drummers like to cut a hole in the front head to allow mic placement into the drum, to decrease resonance, or to allow more airflow to reduce foot pedal bounce. The size of the hole should be about 5" and should be
placed off center toward the edge of the head. This placement maintains more of the drum's tone, and still provides
good pedal response. A large hole cut into the center of the head lets air escape too quickly, which reduces the bass
response of the drum, and lessens pedal rebound.
As with all drums, bass drums produce annoying high overtones. To control this, start with proper head selection
as discussed above. Most drummers also put a pillow or blanket inside of the drum, usually touching part of the batter
head. Muffler rings can also be used, and Remo® and Danmar® offer impact pads that stick to the batter head at the
point of the beater impact. They not only provide some dampening, but also increase durability.
Drum Accessories
Stick Bags
Stick bags make it easy to organize, and transport your sticks, brushes, and mallets. On a gig, they attach to
your floor tom, keeping your sticks handy for easy switch offs.
Drum Rugs
Often a Drummer is forced to set up his kit on a hard wooden or tile surface. Drum rugs and drum mats keep
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the drums from sliding around.
Cases
If you transport your kit, you will need cases to protect the drums. You can choose between soft bags, or hard
cases made of molded plastic or vulcanized fiberboard. For heavy duty use, there are ATA (airline travel approved)
cases. Bags and cases are also available for cymbals and hardware.
Tuning Devices
Torque wrenches allow a drummer to get the exact, precise tension on each tuning lug. Some are even available with easy to read gauges. Other devices that are available to speed up the tuning process include ratchet keys,
speed keys, and drill bit sockets that are designed to fit a drum lug.
Metronomes
Metronomes are handy devices that allow drummers to practice keeping steady tempos. They are available with
easy to read displays that flash the tempo, and also ear pieces that let the player hear the click track over the sound of
the drums.
Ef fects for Guitar & Bass
Overview
Effects came into existence almost simultaneously with the electric guitar. Most early vintage amplifiers featured onboard Reverb and Tremolo that could be activated by a footswitch. During the 1960s, individual effect pedals
became available that offered a wide range of effect possibilities. Most were simple units that offered a few knobs to
tweak the effect, and a single on/off button which the player stepped on to activate the effect. Guitar players dubbed
them Stomp Boxes, and that term has stuck to this day.
Guitarists often used several stomp boxes chained together, and this led to the evolution of the Multi-Effect
Pedal. Manufacturers sought to supply musicians with a single compact pedal that could produce a number of effects.
Multi-effect pedals allowed the musician to
select a single effect, or to combine effects
and store them as a patch for later recall.
Multi-effect pedals became available as either
floor models or rack mountable units. They
featured factory presets, and also user programs that allowed a musician to create his
own combination of effects. These units also
allowed a player to scroll through different
menus and to tweak various parameters to
customize the effects to his own personal taste.
Early effect units were all analog, and some
players still prefer analog pedals because of
their classic sound, but most modern effect
pedals rely on digital or modeling technology.
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Types of Effects
Distortion
There is no doubt that distortion is the most widely used effect by guitarists. It is also referred to as fuzz and
overdrive. When pushed to extremes, early tube amps produced a type of warm distortion that was referred to as overdrive. Many players feel that this type of distortion produces a classic sound. Some distortion pedals are designed to
simulate tube distortion, and some actually include a vacuum tube in an effort to achieve that overdriven sound.
Other distortion pedals are referred to as fuzz tones. This type of distortion pedal mixes in noise with the original signal. While a fuzz pedal can add distortion and sustain, too much of a good thing can make it hard to distinguish
the notes that are actually being played. One solution is to combine the distortion pedal with a compressor pedal so
that the compressor can provide sustain, while allowing the distortion to be scaled back so that individual notes can be
distinguished. This type of compressor/distortion combination works well with any type of distortion pedal. The best
configuration is to place the compressor before the distortion pedal.
A third style of distortion pedal is the mega-distortion type. These pedals are able to produce the extreme
distortion that is popular with metal players.
Reverb
Reverb can create a sense of spaciousness. A guitar being played in a small room can be made to sound as if
it is being played in an auditorium. Reverb also adds fullness to a sound.
Early amplifiers used spring reverbs, and some still do, but most modern amps are equipped with digital reverb.
If your amp does not have built in reverb, digital reverb pedals are also available.
Delay
Delay, also referred to as Echo, is similar to reverb, but it creates a sense of space large enough to create an
echo. Think of clapping your hands together in an airplane hanger. A very short delay can fatten your sound much like
reverb, while longer delay times can be used for special effects.
Delay pedals can be analog or digital, and some digital pedals also offer a modeled analog delay. A few early
delay units actually used tape delay. Delay pedals have controls that enable you to set the delay time, and the number
of repeats. You are also able to adjust the decay time, which is how fast the echoes fade out.
Delay pedals also have a hold function which can repeat a short loop of music over and over. This allows the
player to then play a different part over top of the pattern which is repeating.
Loopers
A musician can play a musical passage into a Looper, and then store that passage as a loop for later recall.
Quality Loopers have hours of storage space. Loops can be played back, layered, and also serve as backing tracks.
Some Loopers even feature drum tracks. Loopers are great for individual practice sessions, and they can also be used
to fill out the sound of a smaller group during live performances.
Compression
Compression pedals are often referred to as Compression/Sustainers. They are designed to compress louder signals, and to boost lower level signals. When a note starts to fade out, the compressor boosts the note and sustains it.
This allows the note to continue to ring out. As mentioned previously, compression pedals also work well in conjunction with distortion pedals. Bass players also like compression pedals. They smooth out their sound, and because they
compress louder signals, they help to keep bass amplifiers from clipping and distorting.
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Pitch Shift
The most basic pitch shift pedal is the Octave Box. This type of pedal adds a bass note an octave or two lower
to the note being played. Another type of pitch shift pedal is a Harmonizer. Harmonizers can add two or three note
harmonies to instrumental or vocal performances. They also allow for key selection.
Tremolo
Tremolo pedals simulate the onboard tremolo effect that was a standard feature on classic vintage amplifiers.
A rate knob allows the speed of the effect to be adjusted, and a depth knob controls the intensity of the effect.
Flanging
Flanging was a technique that originated in early recording studios. Using two reel-to-reel tape machines, a
sound engineer would play the same musical passage simultaneously on both machines, but touch one of the reels at
intervals to create a drag on the tape. This created a modulation effect dubbed flanging. It resulted in a sweeping up
and down cycle that produced a buzzing effect while it climbed and fell. Modern digital effect pedals can now create
the same effect. Flangers are popular with bassists, as well as guitarists.
Phase Shifter
A Phase Shifter adds an up and down cycle effect to a performance which results in a swirling sound. A rate
knob allows you to control the speed of the up and down cycle. Phase shifters provide modulation that is more subtle
than a flanger.
Chorus
Chorus pedals are another form of modulation. A chorus pedal replicates the original signal, but in a slightly
detuned and delayed manner. This results in a fuller sound, and produces a doubling effect. As with all modulation
pedals, a rate control adjusts the speed of the chorusing. This allows the effect to be subtle or more noticeable,
depending on the player's preference.
Equalization
An Equalizer or EQ is used to customize a player’s tone. An EQ pedal contains an optimized frequency range
for either bass or guitar. That frequency range is then divided into a number of bands that can be cut or boosted with
slider controls. Mid, high or bass tones can all be added or subtracted according to the performer's preference. EQ
pedals also have a gain control that can function as a signal boost for solos when the pedal is activated.
Wah Pedals
Wah-Wah pedals are available as standard manual models, or as Auto-Wah pedals. The original Wah pedals
were all manual. Manual models have a push button located under the toe section of the pedal board. When this is
activated, it creates a mid range boost that can then be manipulated by applying a heel-toe rocking motion to the
pedal board. The Wah-Wah sound is familiar to any fan of Rock and Roll.
An Auto-Wah does not have a pedal board. The Wah effect is controlled by the dynamic attack of the guitarist
as he strikes the strings. When the strings are struck hard the Wah effect is activated. When the strings are played
softly the Wah effect is more muted.
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Rotary Pedals
Rotary Pedals are designed to simulate the sound of a Leslie tone cabinet. The original Leslie cabinets featured
a plastic rotating high frequency horn, and a fixed position woofer that projected sound through a rotating sound baffle.
Speed buttons enabled the rotating components to be sped up or slowed down. This resulted in a unique swirling
sound. Leslie tone cabinets are still available, but they are difficult to transport. Rotary pedals enable a player to
achieve the same effect with just a simple stomp box that can also simulate the stop, start, and speed-up effect of an
actual Leslie cabinet.
Volume Pedals
There is nothing complicated here. A volume pedal simply allows a player to control his volume by operating a
foot pedal rather than doing so by hand. This can be useful for adding increased volume when taking a solo. A volume
pedal can also enable a guitarist to mimic a steel guitar. With the pedal rocked back, a player can strike a note and then
rock the pedal forward to create a swell-in effect much like a pedal steel player does.
Acoustic Simulators
Acoustic Simulator pedals make an electric guitar sound like an acoustic guitar. They enable a player to switch
from electric to acoustic without actually having to change instruments.
Line Selectors
Line Selector pedals are also referred to as A/B boxes. These pedals allow a player to switch back and forth
between different signal paths. They are useful when using multiple amplifiers or effects.
Noise Gates
Noise Gates help eliminate hum and noise. When no signal is present the noise gate activates (closes), and
shuts down the signal path. This eliminates noise during quiet passages or between songs. When a signal is applied,
the noise gate opens and lets the signal pass through.
Pedal Tuners
Pedal Tuners facilitate tuning before, and during a performance. All a player has to do is to glance down at his
pedal board to instantly see if he is in tune. The pedal tuner is always on, so tuning can be monitored at anytime
during a performance. Some units also offer drop tuning functions for players who need to quickly change to an
alternate tuning.
Bass Effects
As the bass guitar has become more prominent in modern music, bassists also find effects useful in enhancing
their performance. Flanging, chorus, and EQ are popular choices. Occasionally, bassists also use overdrive or distortion effects. In addition, there are bass synthesizer pedals available to provide special effects.
Acoustic Effects
Many performers are using acoustic/electric guitars. Chorus and reverb are two popular choices with these
players. An equalizer is practically a necessity for acoustic players for controlling feedback.
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Multi-Effect Pedals
While stomp boxes are still widely used, many players have switched to multi-effect pedals. These pedals come
loaded with dozens of factory presets and user programs. A player can combine different effects into a patch, and then
store that patch for recall at a later date. Multi-effect pedals also allow a player to browse through various menus, and
to adjust multiple parameters that can tweak sounds to his own personal taste.
Modeling technology allows these pedals to do much more
than just combine effects. More advanced pedals also contain multiple classic amp models, cabinet models, classic stomp box models, and even models of various guitar pickups. In addition, they
feature expression pedals, loopers, and tuners. Multi-effect pedals
can also be chained together with standard stomp boxes, and more
sophisticated models can be connected directly to a computer.
While rack mountable multi-effect units are available, most
players prefer floorboard models. With a floorboard model, everything is right in front of you for easy access. Floorboard units are
also easier to interface with other pedals. In addition, rack mountable models require a foot controller, which is an added expense.
Guitars
Your First Guitar
Choosing your first guitar can sometimes seem to be a daunting task. There are so many choices. Where do you
begin? Most people usually start out on an acoustic guitar. It is generally less expensive than an electric guitar, and it
is very easy to switch to an electric model at a later date, but it is also important to consider the excitement factor.
Some beginners only picture themselves playing a nice shiny electric, complete with all the distortion and special
effects to go with it. Especially with young students, this excitement factor often translates into more practice time.
What should you look for when choosing your first guitar? Whether you
have chosen to buy an acoustic or electric model, you will want to make sure
that it is a real instrument and not a toy. A good guitar should stay in tune and
be easy to play. A guitar that is easy to play is often referred to by musicians as
a guitar that has good action, meaning that it is easy to press the strings down. A
guitar that keeps slipping out of tune, or that has high action that hurts your fingers when pressing the strings down, is an enthusiasm killer and very frustrating
for a beginning student. It can even lead to a student abandoning the whole idea
of playing the guitar because it just seems too difficult.
So where do you start? Find the guitar department at a professional
music store, and ask for assistance. Tell the sales person that you are looking for a starter guitar and let them guide
you. Have them play the guitar, and ask them if it is easy to play, and if it is staying in tune. Ask them if they have a
repair shop that can make adjustments to the guitar. This is very important. Often, starter guitars that come right out of
the box from the factory need some adjustment. Musicians refer to it as a guitar that is set up properly. So a guitar that
catches your eye, but that seems to have high action, may only require a quick set up by an experienced guitar tech to
turn it into a fine playing instrument.
Now the big question, what should you expect to pay? A good starter guitar, both acoustic and electric, can be
had within the price range of $100 to $400 dollars. As with anything, you get what you pay for. A guitar that is more
expensive generally has had more attention given to it during its production. If it is an acoustic, it will have better
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31
wood, improved tone, better action, and often some fancier cosmetics. If it is an electric, it will have better electronic
components, and more attention given to the set up of the guitar. Only you know what your budget is, but in short, a
more expensive guitar will be easier to play, will sound better, and increase your chances of successfully learning how
to play the instrument.
Acoustic
When asked what to look for when choosing an acoustic guitar, Nick Trossbach, who heads the acoustic guitar
department at Bill's Music, replied in three simple words, "sound, feel, and looks."
Sound
The wood used in construction is probably the biggest factor in determining sound. Lower
priced guitars are usually made with laminated woods. More expensive instruments are made of
solid woods. The desired woods to use are tonal woods, meaning woods that sustain and project
tone. Top manufacturers such as the C.F. Martin® Co. use solid spruce tops, and mahogany or
rosewood backs and sides. The spruce top vibrates and sustains the tone from the strings and
bridge, and the hardwood back and sides project the sound outward through the sound hole. Other
woods such as maple or cedar can be used. Maple produces a brighter tone, while cedar produces
a more mellow tone, but spruce tops, and mahogany or rosewood bodies are the most common
choice. Ebony is often used for bridges and fret boards because of its durability. Body size can
also affect sound. A smaller body will produce a brighter sound, and a larger body will have a
better bass response and produce more volume.
Feel
The feel of a guitar is a personal choice. Make sure you select a body size that is comfortable for you. Smaller,
tight waisted models such as the Grand Concert or Auditorium may be suitable for smaller players or those seeking a
brighter tone. Wider waisted bodies such as the Dreadnought or Super Jumbo will produce more volume, and have a
fuller sound. The Dreadnought is by far the most popular choice. It's not as bulky as a Super Jumbo, and it produces
more volume and bass response than the smaller models. The feel of the neck is also important. Your hand should fit
comfortably around the neck, and the action should be low and easy to play.
Look
The look you like is a personal choice. Many acoustic guitars come with a natural finish, but Sunburst finishes,
or solid finishes such as Black, White, Blue etc, are also available. Another consideration is the inlay work. Some guitars have fancy inlay work around the rosette, on the fret board, or at the headstock, others are more basic in their cosmetic treatment.
Steel Strings
Steel string guitars are definitely the most popular choice, and are heard in many styles of music including rock, jazz, country, blues, and folk. They have a wide dynamic range, and ring out with a sound that is loud and
full. They have a narrower neck, and tighter string spacing than nylon string guitars, and can be strummed with a pick
or finger picked. Steel strings put a lot of pressure on the neck, so you should choose a model with an adjustable truss
rod. Not only does the truss rod reinforce the neck, it allows the neck to be flexed back into proper position if it ever
becomes bowed. It is slightly harder to press down steel strings than nylon strings, so you want to make sure that your
guitar is adjusted for the lowest possible action. It is not advisable to put nylon strings on a steel string guitar. They
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will not provide enough tension for the instrument to ring out properly, and will result in a flat, dull sound.
Nylon Strings
Nylon string guitars are also referred to as classical guitars. They have a softer more mellow sound than a steel
string. The strings are also easier to press down. The neck is wider which allows for easier finger picking. The nylon
string guitar is generally used to play classical music, but it shows up in other styles of music as well. Willie Nelson
uses one to play country, and Charlie Byrd used a classical to play jazz. While it is the only choice for serious classical
musicians, some players choose a nylon string simply because it is easy to fret, and they prefer its mellow sound. One
final word of caution, never put steel strings on a classical guitar. They are not braced to withstand the tension of steel
strings, and could literally be pulled apart.
Finally
It's up to you. The sound, feel, and look of a guitar are all personal choices. Players will always debate which
one plays the best or sounds the best. Choose one constructed with good materials then let your ears, your fingers, and
your personal taste determine which one is right for you.
Electric Guitars
An electric guitar, coupled with an amplifier and multiple effect devices,
opens up a whole world of tone and sound possibilities. They come in all shapes
and sizes, and there are many things to consider before making your purchase, such
as price, type, style, and features.
Price
If you are buying for a beginner, you may want to consider purchasing one
of the starter packages that are widely available. They include the guitar, an amplifier, and the necessary accessories that you will need to begin playing. To ensure
good quality, choose one that is made by a major manufacturer such as Ibanez®,
Fender®, or Peavey®. You could also consider buying a used guitar and amplifier.
In either case, rely on the advice of a professional music store to guide you in your
selection. A good quality beginner's outfit can be had for $200 to $300.
If you are looking to purchase a step-up or intermediate instrument, there
are many excellent models available. Modern computerized manufacturing techniques have enabled guitar makers to produce high quality instruments at very affordable prices. Again, stick with
name brands that you recognize. The price range for step-up models is between $400 and $800.
Professional models usually start at around $1000 and go up from there. Elite guitar makers such as PRS®,
Gibson®, Fender® and Ibanez® turn out models that are constructed with top of the line woods and electronics. Much
attention is given to the action and set up of the guitar during the manufacturing process. Many pro models feature
cosmetic details such as flamed or quilted tops, gold hardware, intricate inlays, beautiful finishes, and elaborate graphics.
Type
The most popular electric guitar is the solid body. It can be cranked up to high volume levels without feedback
problems. Its rugged design can stand up to years of hard playing, and the body can be made into all kinds of shapes
and designs.
Hollow body electric guitars are more fragile and prone to feedback at high volumes. They are usually preferred
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33
by Jazz players for their full robust sound.
Semi-hollow body electrics have a slimmer body than a full hollow body, and normally have a solid block of
wood in the center of the guitar to reduce feedback. They are sometimes chosen for their versatility by guitarists who
play a variety of styles.
The main factors to consider are comfort, feel, sound, construction, and options.
Comfort and Feel: Consider the weight of the instrument. A guitar that is heavy might be constructed with
dense woods and large-mass hardware to increase sustain, but it might be uncomfortable
for a player to hold all night. Some solid body guitars are chambered to reduce weight
and increase tonality. See how the guitar feels against your body. Some body styles are
contoured to make them more comfortable to hold. Most importantly, the neck should
feel comfortable in your hand, and it should have good action.
Sound: The types of wood used in construction and the electronics on the guitar
will effect the sound it produces. Tonal woods such as mahogany, maple, alder, and ash
are among the choices that manufacturers use. These woods affect the sustain and tone
of the instrument. They are often used in combinations such as a mahogany body with a
maple top.
The style and number of pickups used, as well as their positioning on the guitar's
body all affect the sound. A single coil pickup produces a clean, bright sound, but can
also produce hum. To correct this, Gibson® invented the double coil pickup, referred to
as a humbucker pickup. The humbucker uses two coils wired in reverse polarity to cancel the hum. A double coil pickup produces a fatter, gutsier sound than a single coil.
Some guitars come with coil tap switches that can turn off one of the coils on a double
coil pickup, converting it to a single coil. Guitars can have all single coils, all double
coils, or combinations of both. Pickups positioned closer to the bridge produce more
bite, whereas pickups positioned closer to the neck will produce a more mellow sound.
Most guitars have two or three pickups and come equipped with a 3 position or a 5 position selector switch to choose different combinations of pickups.
Construction and Options: Bolt on models, popularized by Fender®, have the
necks bolted to the body of the guitar with three or more screws. This reduces construction costs, and makes neck replacement relatively easy. Set neck guitars, such as
Gibsons®, have the neck dovetailed and glued into the body. While it makes neck
replacement more difficult, it increases the tonal response between the neck and body of
the instrument. On neck thru models, one piece of wood serves as the neck and also as
the center of the guitar body. Side wings are then affixed to complete the construction of the body. The bridge, strings
and tuning gears are all anchored to the same single piece of wood. This design produces maximum sustain.
The type of bridge selected is also important. A bridge with more mass will add weight, but increase sustain.
Stop tailpiece models are easy to keep in tune. Guitars with standard vibrato arms, sometimes called whammy bars,
can be more difficult to keep in tune, but allow the player to bend the strings or produce a tremolo effect. When using
a standard vibrato system, locking tuners can help keep the instrument in tune. Floyd Rose style locking tremolo systems allow radical dive bombing of the strings without the guitar going out of tune, but changing a string involves
using allen wrenches, and takes a bit of time.
Acoustic/Electric
Acoustic/Electric guitars can provide the best of both worlds. Traditionally acoustic guitars were amplified by
installing a sound hole pickup, which only did a fair job of reproducing the acoustic sound. Another method was to
play the guitar directly into a microphone, which limited movement on stage. Now, Acoustic/Electric models employ
a piezo pickup installed under the bridge. This style of pickup senses the vibrations from the strings and bridge and
reproduces an authentic acoustic sound. A preamp system is used to boost the signal, and this method allows the guitar
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to be played at loud volumes with reduced feedback concerns. Most of the preamp systems are equipped with volume
and EQ controls, and some are even come with a built in electronic tuner.
If you plan to play the guitar mostly as an acoustic, employ the same criteria that you would use to select any
good acoustic guitar. If you plan to use it mostly as an electric, consider the body size. A smaller body size can help
reduce feedback.
Left Handed
Major manufacturers offer many models in left handed versions. They are usually a bit more expensive than
right handed models, and not all models are available in left handed configuration. Some left handed students learn to
play the guitar right handed, while others find it too awkward and prefer the left handed approach. This is something
you should discuss with your teacher.
7 Strings
Modern electric 7 string guitars are usually identified with the Heavy Metal genre of music. They were popularized by Steve Vai in conjunction with Ibanez®, and the band Korn. The seven string guitar is equipped with an
extra low end string which is normally tuned to a low B. This extra string provides the massive low end output that
Metal guitarists desire.
12 Strings
Most 12 string guitars are acoustic, but some manufacturers such as Rickenbacker®
also offer electric 12 string models. You can even get electric double neck models that offer a 6
string neck as well as a 12 string neck. The 12 string guitar features six pairs of strings that
produce a full, rich sound when strummed. The treble strings E and B are tuned in unison. The
lower four pairs are tuned in octaves. Some players prefer an alternate tuning with the G string
also tuned in unison. Because the extra strings on a 12 string put a lot of pressure on the neck,
many players use lighter gauge strings, or even tune the guitar down a half step to help lower
the tension.
9 Strings
9 String guitars feature a modified 12 string set up. The three bass strings are single
strings, while the three treble strings are in pairs and tuned in unison. This allows for clear bass
runs and full chords at the same time.
4 Strings
4 string guitars are also referred to as Tenor guitars. In the early part of the 20th
Century, Tenor banjo was extremely popular. The Tenor guitar was invented so that Tenor
banjo players could also double on guitar, for a more mellow sound. It's also used in Folk
Music. Tenor guitars are tuned in 5ths (CGDA), the same as a Tenor Banjo or Viola.
Mini Guitars
Mini Guitars serve two purposes. They come in smaller sizes for young students, and they are produced for
adults as practice guitars, or travel guitars. Smaller students can get ½ or ¾ size models that are easy to handle. For
adults, the main attraction is the portability factor. Travel guitars, such as the CF Martin® Backpacker, have very
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35
small bodies, but still have a regular size neck and fret board that allow a player to work on his chops, even when he is
on the go.
Sitars
Sitars are ancient string instruments that are most closely identified with
India. The instrument was popularized in the western world by the Beatles who
were influenced by the work of Ravi Shankar. A sitar has a hollow gourd body
attached to a long hollow neck. The curved frets on the instrument are moveable
to allow for fine tuning. The playable strings run over the top of the frets and are
used to play the melody. Sympathetic strings run underneath of the curved frets
and provide the resonance that gives the instrument its distinctive sound.
Some styles also feature another hollow gourd attached to the back of the
neck. The best sitars are made with tonal woods such as toon or teak. Often, these
instruments are highly ornamented with intricate inlay work.
Strings
When you visit your professional music store, you will be confronted with a wide variety of strings to choose
from. If you are not sure what you are looking for, ask the counterperson in the guitar department for some guidance.
They know the most popular brands, and they know what other players are buying.
The following will give you a quick overview:
Guitar Strings come in gauges. Extra-light, light, medium or heavy. The lighter the string, the easier to press
down, but lighter strings produce a thinner sound, and can be harder to keep in tune, so there is a trade off to consider.
Acoustic Strings: Most acoustic players choose a light or medium gauge string. They come in Bronze, Phosphor
Bronze, 80/20 Bronze and other variations. You cannot put acoustic strings on an electric guitar. They will not work
with an electric guitar's magnetic pickups. Players debate over which brands and types sound better, and last longer.
There are also Silk & Steel strings available for players who like an easier playing string, and prefer a more mellow
sound.
Electric Strings: Electric strings are steel or nickel, and are designed to work well with magnetic pickups. They
will sound wimpy though if you try to use them on an acoustic guitar. They are available in regular light (.010), Extra
light (.009), and Super Light (.008). The numerical designation is the gauge of the high E string. Jazz players who are
looking for full sounding, chunky chords prefer heavier strings that start with an 11, 12, or 13 gauge high E string.
Most electric players prefer the sound of round wound strings, but flat wounds and half round strings are available
for those concerned with fret noise.
Nylon Strings: Nylon strings are sold in different tensions: Light, normal, and hard. Hard tension strings are
brighter and sharper, while light tension strings are softer and mellower. They are also available with ball ends for
easier installation. Because of their lighter tension, nylon strings will not work well on a steel string guitar.
Coated Strings: Elixir® pioneered the idea, and now other string makers also offer coated strings. While coated
strings are more expensive, they last a lot longer. Many players think having to do fewer string changes is well worth
the investment.
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Harmonicas
Diatonic
The Diatonic harmonica is the choice of most harmonica players. Diatonic harmonicas are ten hole models that
play a major scale, but do not play any sharps or flats. They are available in multiple keys. This is the style harmonica
that you hear when you listen to Country, Rock, Jazz, or the Blues. The Hohner® Company is by far the leading
manufacturer of all types of harmonicas, and they offer several popular diatonic models.
The Marine Band
This is the original that put the Hohner® Company on the map, and it is still their biggest seller. Widely used
by professionals, it is also a good choice for beginners. If you are just starting out, buy a Marine Band in the key of C.
Most instructional material is based on a diatonic harmonica in the key of C.
The Blues Harp
Like the Marine Band, the blues harp has a wooden comb, but the reeds are designed to bend easier for Blues
style playing.
The Blues Bender
The Blues Bender is designed specifically for beginners who are learning how to play the Blues, and how to
bend the reeds.
The Special 20
The Special 20 has superior bendability, and a sweet tone. It also has a plastic comb that does not absorb
moisture which makes it longer lasting.
The Golden Melody
The Golden Melody features equal tempered tuning which makes it ideal for playing melody lines.
Choosing the Correct Model
Select a diatonic harmonica that has the features that you like, but make sure that you also understand the concept of playing Cross Harp before choosing the key.
Cross Harp
Many players are confused by this concept. If you are playing with other musicians, you will have to switch
harmonicas depending on the key of the musical selection that is to be performed. If the key of the song is in G, and
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you select a G harp, it will work, but it is not the best choice. Using the G harp, you would mostly be blowing out.
This is fine for playing a melody line, but you won't be able to bend the notes properly. Using a G harp in this situation would be referred to as straight harp. This style lends itself to the melody lines of old time favorites, but if you
want to be able to play something other than "On Top Of Old Smokey", you will need to play cross harp.
In most situations, the harmonica player is playing fills, and riffs, not precise melody lines. To play this style,
you need to be able to bend the notes, and you can only do this by drawing in. If the song is in the key of G, the correct
cross harp would be in the key of C. We all know the familiar do re me fa so la ti do. If the guitar player says the song
is in the key of G, think of that as do. Count up the major scale to fa, the fourth note, and you will come to C. That is
the correct harmonica to choose. The chart below will help.
Key of the Song
Cross Harp
E ------------------ A
F ------------------ B flat
F# ----------------- B
G ------------------ C
A flat-------------- D flat
A ------------------ D
B flat -------------- E flat
B ------------------- E
C ------------------- F
D flat -------------- F#
D ------------------- G
E flat --------------- A flat
E -------------------- A
Chromatic
Chromatic harmonicas are useful when a player needs to play a precise melody line that may include sharps
and flats. Chromatic harmonicas have a side button that when pressed in allows the player to reproduce the sharp and
flat notes that the piece may require. They are available in many keys. Choose one that is in the key that the song is
written in, not a cross harp.
Special Effects
Special effect harmonicas are also available. These include Echo, Octave Tuned, and Tremolo models. These
produce a pleasant vibrato effect, and the double reed models provide a full, robust sound that brings to mind the
traditional description of a harmonica as a Mouth Organ.
Amplification
Most players use a microphone to amplify their harmonicas. Harmonica pickups are available, but microphones
are more widely preferred. The microphone can be stand mounted or held in the hands. The most popular choice
among professional players is the Shure® "Green Bullet" Model 520DX® microphone. Its rounded shape fits comfortably in the hands, and the built in volume control lets the player adjust his sound right at the microphone.
The microphone can be amplified by plugging it directly into a sound system, or it can be plugged into a dedicated, stand alone harmonica amp. Most stand alone amps have a line out that also allows the sound to be fed directly
to the sound board. Players will argue over which speaker configuration is the best, and many prefer tube amps for the
warmth, and harmonic distortion that tubes provide.
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Keyboards
Basic MIDI
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It is an industry-standard protocol that was developed in
the 1980s to allow digital data to be transmitted between different brands of keyboards. It is important to understand
that MIDI transmits data, not actual sound. MIDI data is transmitted either by a 5 pin MIDI cable or a USB cable.
Prior to the development of MIDI, keyboards that were made by different manufacturers could not communicate with one another. This required keyboard performers to carry around stacks of multiple keyboards to get the
sounds that they wanted for various songs. MIDI made it possible to play one keyboard, but actually use sounds from
another keyboard without switching instruments. Soon manufacturers began producing
sound modules that were just the brains of synthesizers, minus the keyboards. Stacks of
keyboards were suddenly replaced by one MIDI controller connected to a portable rack of
much smaller sound modules.
MIDI can transmit data such as: Note On/Off, Velocity, Aftertouch, Pitch Bend,
Modulation, MIDI Time Code, and more. MIDI data can also be stored as a MIDI file,
and manipulated by computer-based sequencing software,
much in the same manner as a multitrack recorder.
Sequencers
Most modern keyboards are equipped with a built in sequencer. Even the most basic portable keyboards usually
have at least a two track sequencer. More sophisticated models use an eight track sequencer, and professional keyboards
come equipped with 16 track sequencers.
A sequencer records MIDI messages onto individual tracks. Each track can be assigned a different voice
(sound). The tracks can then be combined and played back to form a complete composition. In a sense, sequencers
perform much like a multitrack recorder.
Workstations and Arrangers have their own onboard dedicated sequencers, and many computer programs are
available that offer software-based sequencing.
Samplers
Samplers are able to record sounds and store them as digital audio. The sound samples can then be edited and
manipulated by the user. Samples are stored in digital memory and can be recalled at any time. While there are many
sound libraries available, many musicians enjoy creating and tweaking their own sounds.
Samplers can be used the reproduce authentic sounds made by musical instruments. They are also popular with
DJs for capturing loops of music that can be saved and mixed into a song during a live performance. Samplers can
also be useful for recording sounds like a car door slamming for use on a sound track in video production.
For those who enjoy creating unique and unusual sounds, a sampler is an essential tool.
Digital Pianos
Vintage electric pianos such as the Fender® Rhodes and the Wurlitzer® 200 had their own distinctive sounds,
but they could not replicate the sound or feel of a real acoustic piano. That all changed with the development of digital
technology. Modern digital pianos offer authentic piano sounds, along with keyboards that have a realistic feel.
When selecting a digital piano, along with sound and feel, there are other considerations such as size and portability, and what extra features the piano may offer. Some of the major manufacturers that you may want to compare
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are Roland®, Yamaha®, Korg®, and Kurzweil®.
Sound: The sounds in today's digital pianos are digital samples of some of the best acoustic pianos in the world.
These samples are obtained by using high quality microphones, in a professional studio environment, to capture and
store a digital snapshot of the instrument being sampled.
Obviously, your biggest concern when selecting a digital piano is the quality of the acoustic piano samples, but
along with several acoustic piano sounds, digital pianos also offer other voices such as electric piano, clavinet, harpsichord, vibraphone, strings, and more.
Feel: Acoustic pianos have a unique feel and bounce to the keys that are caused
by hammers striking the strings and rebounding. They also produce different volume
levels depending on how hard or soft the keys are struck. Digital pianos have a weighted action to simulate the feel of an acoustic piano keyboard. Some even use actual
hammers to recreate an authentic feel. Less expensive models sometimes have a semiweighted action that is not as realistic.
Digital piano keyboards are also velocity sensitive, and can produce different
volume levels depending on how hard the keys are struck.
Size and Portability: Digital pianos designed for stage use are referred to as
slab pianos. They have no permanently attached base, and are designed to fit into a gig
bag or case for easy transport. On stage, they are supported by portable, folding stands, and while they may have some
internal amplification, they are usually plugged into a key-board amplifier, or a sound system for increased volume at
larger venues.
Digital pianos for stationary use in the home or elsewhere usually have an attached base. They also have on
board speakers and amplification. Some have a low profile that is designed to take up less space, while others have
casework that simulates the shape and appearance of an acoustic piano.
Other Features: Digital pianos offer other features that acoustic pianos do not. For one thing, they never need
tuning. They also can be used with headphones. This allows the player to use the instrument without disturbing anyone
else. Most models include MIDI interfacing, and many digital pianos also include useful tools that help in the learning
process such as metronomes, sequencers, and key transposition.
Portable Keyboards
Portable keyboards are ideal for beginners of all ages. They are small, lightweight, and loaded with features.
They have on board amplification and speakers, so you can just plug them in and start making music right away. They
can serve as a learning tool for the serious student, or function as a home entertainment center for the enjoyment of
the entire family.
Portable keyboards have spring operated keys that feel similar to those on and organ or synthesizer. They usually have 61 keys, and the keys are velocity sensitive. These instruments are loaded with dozens of sounds (voices),
accompaniment styles, and complete songs. Most also have some onboard effects such as reverb and chorus.
For the serious student, they offer a number of learning aids such as a metronome, a basic sequencer, a headphone jack, and some even have lighted keys. Voices include a high quality grand piano sound, other piano sounds,
organs, strings, brass, bass, drums, and techno synthe-sizer sounds.
The on board styles provide auto accompaniment (backing tracks) for various styles of music.
This gives the player the sense of playing along with
a group. This is also a nice feature for those in the
family who just want to
have some fun.
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The different songs that are provided can also let the keyboard serve as a family entertainment center. A student can
play along with the songs, or other family members can just hit a button, and then sit back and enjoy listening to the
keyboard play the selected song, just as if it were a player piano.
Arrangers
Arranger keyboards offer many of the same features as portable keyboards, but on a much more professional
level. They are designed for use by serious composers, or performing musicians. The on board voices are of very high
quality, and can number 1,000 or more. They are authentic, and realistic, and they articulate the unique, subtle nuances
of each instrument.
As with the voices, the numerous styles of music available on a professional arranger are extensive and highly
sophisticated. Each style provides intros, fills, variations, and endings that are designed to lend realism and detail to
the genre of music that is selected.
In addition to authentic voices and styles, professional arrangers also have sophisticated sequencers that allow
song writers to quickly add intros, fills, endings and variations to their compositions either by copying and pasting, or
by recording them in real time. The result is that the composer is able to listen to his newly created work as a finished
product, complete with authentic sounding instrumentation and backing tracks.
Arrangers are also designed for use by live performers, and are perfect for a one-man band situation. The various voices and styles, combined with chord recognition features, provide the performer with an authentic sounding
back up band. Professional arrangers also have a microphone input, and vocal effects such as reverb, and harmony to
enhance vocal performances.
Synthesizers
Synthesizers generate and manipulate various frequencies, also referred to as sound waves. The most common
wave forms are sine waves, square waves, saw tooth waves, triangle waves, and pulse waves. A Voltage Controlled
Oscillator (VCO) or a Digital Oscillator is used to generate the different sound waves. These sound waves are then
shaped or altered by various modules or stages within the structure of the synthesizer. Some of the more common
stages used to alter the sound are as follows:
Noise Generators provide white noise and pink noise.
Voltage Controlled Filters (VCF) can eliminate or cut off certain frequencies.
Envelope Generators help shape the sound by controlling the attack, decay, sustain, and release (ADSR).
Low Frequency Oscillators (LFO) can add modulation to the sound.
Voltage-Controlled Amplifier (VCA) acts as a preamp to boost the signal.
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There are many types of synthesis including additive, subtractive, FM, sample-based, and physical modeling.
Modern synthesizers can be analog, digital, modeling, or hybrids. Some also have built in sequencers and on board
effects. For the musician, the main purpose of all of this technology is to recreate the sound of various musical instruments, to create special effects, or to generate sounds that are completely unique. Synthesizers come loaded with
preset sounds already on board. They also have user program slots for creating your own sounds.
Workstations
A professional workstation is a highly integrated system that functions well for composing, live performance,
and recording. They come with an extensive sound bank of high quality sampled sounds, multiple synthesizers, and
onboard effects. A built in drum machine, combined with arpeggiators and looping functions, can provide realistic
backing tracks.
An onboard sophisticated multitrack sequencer can be used to build backing tracks, or to record right in the
keyboard itself. Some top of the line models come with a CD burner that allows the keyboard to function as a complete stand-alone recording studio with no need to interface with a computer. A workstation can turn out a finished
product all by itself.
For those who like to record using computer software, workstations can be connected to any DAW software
via MIDI or USB. Professional models are also able to record audio, and some even have sampling capability.
In the hands of a professional, workstations are a powerful, convenient tool for complete musical production.
Drum Machines
Drum machines are basically sequencers. They can be stand alone units, or integrated into Workstations,
Arrangers, or other keyboards. Early models used analog technology, but most modern drum machines use digital
sampling to reproduce more authentic drum and percussion sounds.
All models contain a variety of factory presets and user patterns. Preset patterns are programmed into the
machine by the manufacturer. User patterns can be created and stored by the player for later recall. Drum machines
can be programmed in real time by actually playing the onboard pads or keys with your fingers. They can also be programmed by using step-sequencing to place certain sounds
at certain musical intervals. Along with patterns, drum
machines also provide various intros, fills, and endings.
These can all be entered into the sequencer in the desired
order, and then played back as a complete song. Some units
also contain accompaniment bass patterns.
Drum machines come loaded with a number of factory drum kits, but a player can also create his own drum
kits by combining the various sampled sounds. Each individual drum (kick, snare, and tom) has multiple samples on
board. They vary between authentic acoustic sounds or
electronic sounds. There are also multiple samples of cymbals, hi-hats, and percussion instruments such as wood
blocks and cowbells. All of these can be combined by the
user to create a number of unique drum kits.
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Lighting
Overview
Before deciding on what lighting system to buy, you need to consider the purpose that you intend to use it for.
Do you need lighting for a live band, DJ, Karaoke, a club or for a theater? Do you need wash lighting, spotlights, special effects lighting, or a combination of these? Do you just need a basic system with a few limited functions, or do
you need a more sophisticated system that requires a lighting controller designed to operate intelligent lighting?
Professional lighting can add another dynamic to your performance. It can add an excitement level that will
make your show a more memorable experience for those in the audience.
As with any equipment purchase, you will need to consider your budget. Before making a final decision, head
down to your favorite professional music store, and talk to the techs in the lighting department. They will be able to
guide you as to the best lighting choices to serve your purpose.
Wash Lighting
Wash lighting is designed to illuminate a large area such as a stage with multicolored lighting that is designed
to set a mood, and create an ambiance that harsh white lighting simply cannot do.
Traditionally, wash lighting has been supplied by the use of PAR cans. PAR is an acronym for
parabolic reflector. A PAR can is shaped like a cylinder, with a lamp at the back of the can that
projects light forward through a colored gel sheet. They are normally used in multiples, and employ a variety of different colored gel sheets. Par cans are also equipped with hanging hardware so
that they can be mounted to a truss system or a lighting bar.
Par cans come in different sizes, with the PAR 56 can (300W or 500W) being the most popular
for stage lighting. There is a larger PAR 64 (500 or1000W) which is useful in theaters and large
club venues. There are also smaller size PAR cans that can provide wash lighting in smaller applications. For wash lighting, lamps are available in medium-flood or wide-flood. Aside from usage
in wash lighting, some smaller PAR cans also function as pin spots, and narrow-spot bulbs are also available for the
larger PAR cans.
While Par cans using traditional lamps are still popular, and have certain advantages, LED technology is
rapidly replacing traditional lamps in lighting fixtures.
LED Lighting
LEDs (light emitting diodes) are becoming more and more popular for stage
lighting. In many instances, they are replacing the traditional incandescent lamps that
have been standard equipment over the years.
LEDs emit very little heat, and that makes it more comfortable for both the performers and the audience. They also use less power and are less likely to overload a circuit when multiple lighting units are being used. In addition, LEDs last much longer
than lamps or bulbs.
LED fixtures can employ RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color-mixing. These three
colors can be blended together to produce an almost limitless number of colors and
shades. Keep in mind that LED technology is evolving and improving all the time.
Follow Spots
While wash lighting equipped with the proper lamps can be used to spotlight a certain fixed area on stage or a
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43
stationary performer, it cannot follow that performer if he moves around on the stage. A follow spot is necessary for
that purpose. Mounted on a swivel stand, a follow spot can pivot and follow a performer anywhere on stage that he
chooses to go. Multiple color gel slides allow the lighting technician to change the color of the spotlight. He can also
adjust the focus of the spotlight beam to make it wider or tighter.
Special Effects Lighting
While wash lighting is good for providing ambience, Special effects lights can create an excitement factor.
They can project multiple colored beams and patterns (gobos) that can
cover a dance floor or an entire venue. This makes them a great choice
for DJs and club use. Most special effects lighting fixtures are motorized and sound activated to add a sense of motion to the light show.
The projected beams, patterns, and colors are greatly enhanced when
used in conjunction with a fog machine. The fog gives the light beams
a sense of floating in mid-air between the lighting fixture and the dance
floor. A remote control attached to the fog machine allows the DJ to
control the amount of fog that is being emitted. Chauvet®, American
DJ® and Irradiant® all offer a wide variety of special effects lighting
fixtures.
Some traditional special effects lighting such as mirror balls and
police beacons are still popular, and some clubs use black light to create a glow-in-the-dark effect. Rope lighting and color tubes can be used
to outline an area, and strobe lights and bubble machines are also available.
DMX and Intelligent Lighting
DMX (digital multiplex) cables are used to connect most modern lighting systems. They are terminated with
XLR connectors. Most DMX connectors are 3-pin, but 5-pin connectors are also used. The standard protocol is referred to as DMX512 because up to 512 dimmer channels can be controlled via DMX. DMX cables are designed to
be daisy-chained from one fixture to the next, and this reduces the amount of cables that are needed to control the
lighting system. A DMX lighting console can control DMX lighting fixtures, and also control dimmer packs and relays
that power non-DMX lighting fixtures.
DMX is extremely useful when using intelligent lighting. DMX sends out bundles of information referred to as
Addresses. Intelligent lighting fixtures have multiple functions such as pan, tilt, rotation, changing gobos, changing
colors, strobe function, etc. Therefore, each fixture needs to receive signals from multiple dimmer channels. The dimmer channels (Addresses) are selected on the lighting fixture and the DMX cable carries the signal from the lighting
console to that fixture. Each fixture only responds to the messages that are being sent to
their particular addresses, and ignores all other messages.
All DMX lighting fixtures are wired in a daisy-chain configuration, and no signal is
returned to the lighting console. It is usually not necessary to add a termination resistor at
the end of a DMX cable run. However, if you are using a complex lighting system and
experiencing problems, HOSA® makes a DMX Cable Terminator that should help resolve
any issues that you are having.
The DMX512 protocol, coupled with intelligent lighting fixtures, allows the lighting
technician to create lighting scenes, store them, and then recall them at any time.
Lighting technology is evolving all the time. Wireless DMX is now available, and
so is DMX software that allows a lighting technician to control the lighting system from a computer.
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Non-DMX Lighting
Non-DMX lighting can function automatically or be sound activated. Fixtures such as multiple PAR cans can
be set to chase mode whereby the lights flash in sequence, usually controlled by an adjustable chase speed setting.
Dimmer packs and relays allow non-DMX lighting fixtures to be controlled by a DMX lighting controller. Both
dimmer packs and relays have multiple electrical sockets for plugging in non-DMX lighting fixtures. A relay allows a
DMX controller to turn non-DMX fixtures off or on. A dimmer pack lets a DMX controller adjust the brightness of a
non-DMX fixture such as a PAR can, by adjusting the lighting level up or down.
Controllers
A dedicated DMX lighting controller gives the lighting technician the most flexibility. A DMX controller is a
must for operating an intelligent lighting system. Many intelligent lighting fixtures have the DMX512 protocol built-in,
and they can be programmed by Dip switches located on the fixture. However, a DMX mixer is able to program the
lighting fixtures remotely. This comes in handy when dealing with suspended lighting fixtures that may be hard to
access.
As mentioned before, a DMX controller can also control non-DMX lighting when used in conjunction with
dimmer packs and relays, but the most important function of a DMX controller is its ability to set up various lighting
scenes, and then store them for later recall.
Not every local band can afford to hire a lighting technician to operate the lighting system during their performance. For many groups, the answer is to set up a basic lighting system, and then to control that system via a foot controller that is operated by one of the musicians on stage.
Lighting Stands and Cabling
To be effective, lighting fixtures need to be elevated and suspended from some type of support. The most basic
lighting stands are tripod stands combined with a T-bar from which lights can be suspended. Consider the total weight
of the lighting fixtures that you are hanging, and make sure that your tripod stand has a large enough base to avoid tipping over. Also, make sure that the stand is sturdy enough and rated to carry the combined weight of all the fixtures
that you intend to use.
While tripod stand are the most portable, there are limitations as to the number of lighting fixtures that they can handle. For
a more extensive lighting set-up, a portable truss system is a better
choice. A truss system consists of two tripod stands, placed on
either side of the stage, that support a long horizontal truss bar that
is designed to handle multiple lighting fixtures safely. As always,
make sure that your portable truss system is rated to carry the combined weight of all the lighting fixtures.
For permanent lighting installations in a theater or club, aluminum and steel trusses are available. These consist of three or four
long metal poles that are welded together in triangular or square
patterns, and that are supported by multiple cross braces. They are
designed to be permanently affixed to a ceiling or wall. Trusses of
this type are designed to safely support multiple lighting fixtures. If a truss system is to be flown (suspended from
cabling), this should only be done by a licensed professional rigging company.
To attach lighting fixtures to stands and trusses you will need a C-clamp or O-clamp for each fixture. Overhead
lighting fixtures should also be attached to a truss system with a safety cable to prevent any fixture from accidentally
falling. In addition to DMX cables, you will also need to an AC power cable for each fixture, as well as the appropriate
number of extension cords and power strips.
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45
Mallet Per cussion
Xylophones
Xylophones vary in size from small diatonic children’s toys, to larger chromatic orchestral models. Orchestral
xylophones are usually 3½ to 4 octaves. The instrument consists of a series of bars that are laid out like a piano keyboard. The bars can be made of wood or a synthetic material such as fiberglass. Hard rubber or plastic mallets are normally used to play the instrument, but yarn wrapped mallets can also be used
when a softer tone is desired.
The xylophone is a brilliant sounding instrument; the notes sounded
are actually one octave higher than the written notes. The instrument contains two rows of bars. Like a piano, the bottom row plays the seven natural
notes of the western musical scale (ABCDEFG) just like the white keys on a
keyboard. The upper row of bars plays accidental notes (sharps and flats)
just like the black keys on a piano. Short resonator tubes are located beneath
the bars to increase volume and to enhance tone.
Marimbas
Marimbas have larger bars and longer tube resonators than those of a xylophone. This arrangement gives the
instrument a fuller, mellower tone. It also provides an extended bass range. Marimba bars are usually made of tonal
woods such as rosewood, but synthetic bars are also used on some instruments.
The marimba is a non-transposing instrument. The notes sounded are the same as the written notes. The most
common mallets used on marimbas are yarn wrapped rubber mallets. These mallets vary in hardness. Because of the
marimba’s extended range, some players mix mallets; using softer ones for the lower notes and harder ones for the
higher notes.
Marimba players use two, four, or even six mallets at a time. This
allows the player to produce chords as well as melody lines. Various
grips are preferred by different players, and players will argue over the
pros and cons of each one.
Vibraphones
Like a marimba, a vibraphone is a non-transposing instrument,
and the notes sounded are the same as the notes written. Vibraphones are often referred to simply as vibes. While the
configuration of a vibraphone is much like that of a marimba, they have metal bars
made of aluminum instead of wooden bars.
Unlike the xylophone or marimba, a vibraphone has butterfly disks inside each
one of its resonator tubes. These disks can be rotated by a variable speed motor that is
attached to the instrument. When the disks are rotated, they produce a tremolo effect.
The instrument can also be played with the disks in a stationary position when the
tremolo effect is not wanted.
Vibraphones are also equipped with a damper pedal that allows the player to control the sustain of the instrument. Mallet technique is the same as that used by marimba
players.
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Glockenspiels
While the Glockenspiel is similar to a xylophone, it does not use wooden bars. Instead, glockenspiels use a
series of tuned metal plates. The instrument is also higher pitched than a xylophone, and is
designed to play the upper register. Like most mallet percussion instruments, the glockenspiel is
configured like a piano keyboard.
While glockenspiels are used in many genres of music, they are most popular with marching bands. When used during marching, the instrument is supported by a harness and can be played
vertically, or laid out in a horizontal position.
Glockenspiels are transposing instruments and the notes sounded are two octaves higher
than the written notes. The instrument is usually played with hard mallets made of plastic or metal.
Bell Kits
Bell kits are small xylophone type instruments that use tuned metal plates similar to those used on a glockenspiel. Bell kits are designed for student use, and are used by many school systems as educational tools. For more
information on bell kits refer to the Band Instrument section.
Mallets
Mallet percussion players employ many different types of mallets. Mallet
shafts are usually made of rattan, birch, or fiberglass. Each material offers a different flexibility. Some mallet heads are made from very hard materials such as
acrylic, plastic, metal or hard rubber, while others are made of yarn wrapped
rubber with the rubber core varying in hardness.
The general rule of thumb used in mallet selection is that harder mallets are louder and produce a more brilliant sound, while softer mallets produce a mellow, warmer sound.
Micr ophones
Selecting a Microphone
There are two basic considerations when selecting a microphone. The first thing to consider is what purpose is
the mic going to be used for. The following information should guide you through the selection process, and help you
choose the correct type for your application.
The second consideration is cost. Why spend more? What do you
get for your money? A more expensive microphone will offer better durability, less handling noise, wider frequency response, and more gain
before feedback. Like anything else, you get what you pay for.
Terminology
Hi Impedance or Lo Impedance
Hi Impedance microphones are not designed for long cable runs. Using a high impedance cable longer than 20’
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47
or 30’ will result in a loss of high frequency signals, and reduced signal output. Lo impedance mics can have cable
runs of several hundred feet without any signal degradation, and they are the choice of professional performers and
soundmen. A high impedance cable will have a female 3 pin XLR plug that connects to the microphone, and will
terminate with a male ¼" TS plug. Low impedance cables have a female XLR plug that connects to the microphone,
and will terminate with a male XLR plug.
There are also inexpensive microphones available that are dual impedance. These are usually rated at 600
ohms. They will work with both hi impedance and low impedance cables. While this configuration eliminates the
guess work for amateurs, these mics do not provide the optimum performance that professionals demand.
Unidirectional or Omnidirectional
Unidirectional mics pick up sound from the direction in which they are pointed. They reject sound from the
rear of the mic, and limit bleed through from the sides. They can also handle high sound pressure levels (SPL). This
makes them ideal for live performances because they limit feedback, and reject off axis sound. The result is more gain
before feedback.
Omnidirectional mics pick up sound from all sides in a 360 degree pattern. This makes them highly susceptible
to feedback. While not useful for most stage applications, they can be used to pick up room ambience, crowd noise,
nature sounds, or response from a church congregation.
Polar Patterns
Microphone manufacturers all supply graphs which depict the polar pattern of each of their microphones. The
polar pattern is a graph which basically tells you from which areas the microphone will pick up sound. Unidirectional
mics have a heart shaped or cardiod pattern. They pick up sound directly from the front, and some off axis sound, but
reject sound from the rear of the mic. Supercardiod and hypercardiod mics have tighter pickup patterns which reject
more sound coming from the sides, but allow a little more sound at the back of the mic. This has an effect on monitor
speaker placement. For a cardiod pattern the monitor is best placed aimed at the nub of the microphone for best feedback control. Supercardiod or hypercardiod mics have a lobe at the nub of the mic which will pick up sound. When
using these mics, the monitor speaker should be placed at a 45 degree angle from the rear of the mic to avoid the
monitor output from entering this lobe area, and causing feedback. Omnidirectional mics have a 360 degree polar
pattern, and pick up sounds from all sides. Microphones with a figure 8 polar pattern pick up sound from both the
front and the back of the mic. This can be useful in recording to capture some room ambience.
Proximity Effect
Proximity effect occurs when a microphone is moved closer to the sound source. As a vocalist gets closer to the
mic, there is an increase in bass response, resulting in a deeper sound. This kind of close up micing provides a rich, full
sound for ballads. A singer with good mic technique will move further back from the mic when singing louder passages.
Proximity effect also occurs when micing an instrument. Moving the mic closer will bring out more bass frequencies.
Frequency Response
All professional microphones come with a frequency response chart. The frequency response chart indicates
how a microphone will respond over the full sound spectrum. Young people are able to detect sounds over the range
of 20 Hz to 20 kHz, but as people age they lose their ability to hear very high frequencies. A frequency response chart
indicates the range of sound that a microphone can reproduce from the lowest frequency to the highest frequency.
Most microphones do not have a flat response, meaning that they produce all frequencies equally. A frequency
response curve uses decibels to measure the frequency peaks and valleys that are unique to each microphone. This
curve is helpful in determining which microphone to select for different applications.
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SPL
SPL stands for sound pressure level. This indicates how much volume a microphone can handle before it
begins to distort. Loud sound sources such as a kick drum require a microphone with a high SPL level of 130dB or more.
Sensitivity
Sensitivity refers to a microphone's responsiveness to softer sounds.
Attenuation
Some higher end microphones come with attenuation switches. This allows the user to increase or decrease
the sensitivity of the microphone.
Roll Off
Roll off switches on microphones reduce bass frequencies. In live performances, this can eliminate stage
rumble. In recording, or sound mixing situations a roll off switch can compensate for excessive low frequencies
generated by the natural proximity effect of close micing.
Types of Microphones
Dynamic
Dynamic microphones use a small diaphragm in conjunction with a voice coil and magnet to convert sound
into electrical impulses. Think of it as a small loudspeaker working in reverse. They are rugged mics that have internal
shock mounting, and they can handle high SPL levels. They are an excellent choice for live vocals, and for micing
instruments.
Condenser
Condenser mics use a thin membrane placed near a metal backplate to form a capacitor. When
sound pressure moves the membrane, electrical output is generated. Condenser mics have a uniform
response, and produce extended hi frequencies and low frequencies. They are often described as having
a clear, clean, natural sound. Condenser mics are excellent for live micing of certain instruments. They
are also a popular choice for recording both voice and instruments. They function very well as overhead
mics when micing a drum set, and they are also used as lavalier mics and shotgun mics. Condenser mics
require a small amount of voltage to operate. This can be provided by batteries, a stand alone phantom
power supply, or from a mixer that has phantom power capability.
Ribbon
Ribbon mics are figure 8 dynamic mics which use a thin metallic ribbon that produces electrical
impulses when air molecules pass by it. They are very delicate, and usually confined to studio use. They
are often chosen because of the warm sound that they produce.
Pressure Zone
Pressure zone mics pick up sound vibrations off of a flat surface. They can be placed on a conference table, an
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49
altar, a wooden stage or any other hard, flat surface to pick up sound. They are small and unobtrusive and do an excellent job of reproducing speech.
Shotgun
Shotgun mics can pick up sounds at long distances. This makes them popular for use at
sporting events, and for film crews who need to capture sound with a microphone that is off camera. Shotgun mics use interference tubes to cancel sound arriving at the sides.
Lavalier
Lavalier mics are also referred to as lapel mics. They are designed to be clipped onto a lapel, a necktie, or any
article of clothing to pick up speech. To limit feedback, they are usually unidirectional, but sometimes an omnidirectional lavalier is a good choice for a speaker that turns his head a lot. A condenser lavalier can also be used to take
advantage of its increased sensitivity. Lavaliers can be hardwired, or wireless. They are designed for speech, but not
for vocal performances.
Headset
Headset mics allow the user freedom of movement, and use of the hands. To ensure maximum mobility, they
are usually wireless. Headset mics are a popular choice for drummers, aerobic instructors, dancers, keyboard players,
and public speakers. Performers of all types enjoy the hands free mobility that these mics allow. While most do a good
job of reproducing the spoken word, higher quality models are also an excellent choice for vocal performances.
Recording Microphones
Both recording engineers and home recording enthusiasts usually have a variety of
microphones from which to choose. There are many schools of thought on microphone selection
and microphone placement techniques to achieve the optimum result. Dynamic mics are often
used to mic snare drums, toms, and guitar amps. Condensers are often the choice for drum overheads, vocals, and acoustic guitar. Some engineers like to record vocals with a ribbon microphone because of its warm tone, and its ability to add room ambience.
Large Diaphragm Microphones
Most recording studios have a large diaphragm mic that is their go to mic for recording
vocals. Large diaphragm condenser mics provide a warm, superior quality sound that other
microphones cannot match. These mics are usually side address, and suspended in a web shock
mount. Normally a pop filter is used to eliminate plosives and breath noise.
Tube Microphones
Vintage recording mics were often tube microphones. Many engineers consider the sound of a tube mic to
have an extra warmth and character of sound that other mics simply cannot replicate. Some tube model microphones
are still available, and tube microphone preamps can be used to impart a vintage tube sound to any standard microphone.
USB Microphones
USB mics have become increasingly popular with recording enthusiasts who use computer based recording soft-
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ware. Many are inexpensive, and easy to use. The USB format supports phantom power, and the USB mics have built
in A/D (analog to digital) converters and mic preamps. Just plug in, and you are ready to go.
While USB mics are good for basic recording, they do have some limitations. If you are trying to produce the
best recording possible, you will be better off with a higher quality microphone that has top of the line components,
and using it in conjunction with an audio interface to take advantage of the interface's higher quality mic preamps, and
its superior A/D converters.
Wireless Microphones
Wireless mic systems come in four basic configurations: Handheld, Lavalier, Headset,
and Instrument. When you are buying a wireless mic, you are buying a complete system. The
system consists of a microphone, a transmitter, and a receiver. In a handheld system, the transmitter is in the handle of the microphone. Lavalier, headset, and instrument wireless systems
have the transmitter located in a body pack. All transmitters are battery powered. The receiver
unit will have one or two antennas, a sensitivity control, and usually a display window. The
receiver needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet, and also connected by a cable to an input on a sound system.
VHF or UHF
Lower priced systems often operate in the VHF (very high frequency) broadcast band. More professional systems operate in the UHF (ultra high frequency) range. UHF provides a stronger signal, increases operating range, and
functions better when multiple systems are in use.
True Diversity
Inexpensive wireless systems employ a single antenna. With a single antenna, interference can cause the transmitted sound to drop out. True diversity systems have two antennas, and two distinct channels. They also have
circuitry that detects which channel has the strongest signal at any given moment. Instead of dropping out, the transmitted sound will bounce back and forth between the channels. This greatly reduces the chance of any drop out occurring.
Frequency Agile
Less expensive wireless systems usually operate on a single fixed channel or frequency. If there is interference
on that frequency at a given location, or if another wireless system is operating on the same frequency, the system performance will be degraded, or be cancelled out completely. A system that is frequency agile allows the user to select
from multiple channels in order to tune to a different frequency if problems occur.
Auto Scan
Many frequency agile systems have an auto scan feature on the transmitter. When the scan function is activated,
the transmitter will search, and select the strongest signal available. Once the receiver has selected a channel, the
microphone transmitter can then be tuned to the same frequency.
Transmitter Gain
Most transmitters will have a gain knob, or frequency control knob. This adjusts the signal to noise ratio, and
is similar to the gain knobs on a mixer. To set it properly, sing or talk into the microphone at the same volume that
would be used during a performance. The gain knob should be set so that the clip indicator only flashes momentarily
on the highest peaks.
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51
PRO SOUND
Introduction
Putting together a professional sound system can be a daunting task. The importance of seeking out good
advice and expertise can not be over emphasized. The best course of action is to go to a professional music store, and
seek out one of the experts in the sound department. That person should ask you a number of questions before offering
any advice.
There are many factors to consider such as the type of venue that the system will be used in, the average size
of the audience, how many channels do you need, is it for live music, for DJ work, or for public speaking? Will you
be using the system just for vocals, or will you be plugging instruments into the system also? Do you need a system
that is designed to be mobile, or is the system needed for permanent installation in a church, a club, a school, etc?
Last but not least, what is the budget that you are working with?
Once he has obtained the answers to the above questions, your newly found personal sound tech can begin to
guide you with your selection. Buy the best equipment that you can afford. A high quality professional sound system
will give you years of reliable service.
Make sure that you understand the function of each piece of equipment that you are buying. Do not over complicate the system with outboard components that you may not need. Before leaving the store, make sure that you
know how to hook up the system correctly, that you have a basic understanding of how to operate the system, and that
you have all the necessary wiring and accessories that you will need.
If the system is to be installed in a church, a club, or any other permanent location, the value of an on site
sound consultation can not be over-emphasized. A professional store will offer such a service at a reasonable price. It
will be money well spent.
A sound tech can inspect your building and suggest the proper system that would function best in that particular space. He will be able to calculate the wattage required, the number of inputs needed, the number of speakers
needed, the proper angle that the speakers should be installed at, and if the space is large enough for multiple speakers,
if a time delay system is necessary so that sound arrives at all the speakers at the same time.
A sound consultant may even be able to incorporate some of your existing equipment into the new system. If
your location already has quality sound equipment in place, but it is not functioning properly, it may just need to be
rewired, and properly adjusted.
Live Sound Mixers
Overview
On first glance, mixers can be intimidating because of their
sheer number of knobs, sliders, buttons, inputs, outputs and flashing
lights, but mixers are not as complicated as they seem. No matter how
huge a mixer may be, it consists of a series of individual channel
strips that are exactly the same, but that are duplicated a multiple
number of times. Once you understand the functions of each individual channel strip, you will have tamed the beast.
Individual Channel Strip Features
When checking out an individual channel strip, start at the top of one channel, and then work your way down.
Listed below are some of the features that you can expect to see.
Inputs Jacks: There are usually two inputs jacks. A mic input for connecting microphones, and a line input for
connecting instruments or other line level components.
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Insert Jack: An insert jack, sometimes labeled as I/O, is a TRS input that completes an in and out connection.
It is capable of receiving a signal from an outboard device and then returning that signal to that device via an insert cable.
An insert cable has a TRS male connector that plugs into the mixer insert jack, and on the other end has a pair of mono
TS connectors that plug into the input and output jacks of the outboard device. The insert jack is useful for connecting a
compressor, an effect unit, or any other device to an individual channel without affecting any other channels.
Gain or Trim Knob: This control adjusts the input sensitivity of the channel. A mic signal is weaker than a line
level signal. Each channel that has a mic input also has a mic preamp to boost that signal. Line level signals do not
need such a boost, and the gain knob allows the user to set the channel sensitivity to achieve the best signal to noise
ratio depending on the input source. This control is usually connected to a Clip Indicator Light located elsewhere on
the channel strip. With the performer singing or playing at actual performance level, the gain knob should be adjusted
so that the clip light only flashes momentarily on the absolute loudest peaks.
Lo-Cut Option: Some mixers feature a Lo-Cut switch that rolls off unwanted, very low frequencies. This saves
amplifier headroom, and reduces stage rumble.
EQ: The EQ section is usually divided into three frequency bands: Hi, Mid, and Low. EQ knobs have a center
détente position, with a minus sign to the left, and a plus sign to the right. Turning the knob to the left cuts the frequency, while turning the knob to the right boosts the frequency. If only a single cut/boost knob is provided, the actual
frequencies affected, along with the bandwidth, are preset by the manufacturer. Many mixers also provide a frequency
sweep knob in the mid range section to allow the user to select which frequency to cut or boost. More sophisticated
mixers may divide the mid range section into hi-mids and lo-mids, offer sweep knobs on all frequencies, and even provide a bandwidth control to allow the user to select a narrow or broad bandwidth to be cut or boosted. EQ sections that
provide cut/boost knobs, frequency sweep knobs, and also bandwidth knobs are referred to as parametric equalizers.
Aux Pre or Post: Auxiliary controls can be used to send the channel signal to the monitor mix, or to add effects
to the channel. A pre-Aux signal is not affected by the main channel fader, and is normally used for the monitor mix.
Post-Aux controls are generally used to add effects to the channel, and they are affected by the main channel fader.
When the channel is faded out, the effect fades out also. Some mixers come with pre or post selector switches which
allow the user to select either option.
Pan: This assigns the channel either left, right or center in the stereo mix. If the mixer has subgroups, the pan
knob may be used along with a channel assign button to route the channel to a specific subgroup chosen by the user.
PFL or Solo: Normally the sound engineer hears all the mixer channels in the headphone mix at the same time.
When the PFL or Solo button is activated, the sound engineer hears only the selected channel or channels coming
through the headphones. Many mixers have indicator lights to alert the user when this function is activated.
Mute: When the mute button is activated the sound engineer is able to turn off an individual channel strip without affecting any of the settings that are currently being used on that channel. When the mute button is deactivated, the
channel is turned back on with all of its previous settings intact. This enables the sound engineer to turn off microphones on stage that are not needed for a particular selection. Reducing the number of live microphones helps eliminate feedback, and lessens bleed through from other mics and instruments. Many mixers also have an indicator light
that alerts the user when the mute function is activated.
Channel Assign: Many mixers have four or more subgroups. The channel assign buttons, work in conjunction
with the pan knob to assign individual channels to a subgroup. For instance, if six channels are being used for drum
mics, the sound engineer can assign all six of those channels to one subgroup. He can then bring the entire drum set
up or down in the mix without affecting the balance levels of the individual channels. Backup vocal mics could all be
assigned to a different subgroup, while a horn section is routed to another subgroup, and so on.
Main Fader: The main fader controls the overall volume of an individual channel within the main mix. Usually
the main fader is a slider control, but rotary knobs are often used on smaller mixers.
Master Control Section Features
Aside from individual channel strips, live sound mixers also have a master control section. Below is a list of
features that you can expect to find there.
Main Faders: Main faders function as the master volume control for the whole mixer. Usually they are configFor more information email us: info@billsmusic.com
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ured as a pair of left and right slider controls. To maintain proper headroom in the mixer, the master faders should be
set at the same level or preferably at a higher level than the individual channel faders. This prevents the channel faders
from overdriving the master faders.
Subgroup Faders: These faders are usually configured as a group of four or more slider controls. They are the
master volume controls for the channel groups that have been assigned to each subgroup. Other options that may be
included are Solo, Pan, or Mute buttons for each subgroup fader.
Aux Send Master Controls: Aux send controls are configured as rotary knobs. They function as the master level
controls for monitors and effects. If the mixer offers Pre and Post switches for the Aux Sends, select the pre-fader
option for monitor sends, and the post-fader option for effect sends. Some mixers also offer Mute and Solo functions
for Aux Send controls.
Aux Return Controls: Aux Return controls adjust the level of the signals being returned to the mixer from
external effect processors. These return signals are sent into the main mix, and on some mixers the effect return signals
can also be routed to the monitor mix.
Headphone Controls: Headphone inputs and headphone level controls are also located in the Master Control
Section. This function allows the sound engineer to monitor the main mix, or any individual channel or subgroup by
using the Solo function.
Talkback: The Talkback function enables the sound engineer to communicate by microphone with the players
on stage through the monitor speakers. Many mixers feature an onboard mic to facilitate this function.
Metering: The Master Control Section also contains an LED ladder type meter to let the sound engineer visually monitor output levels to avoid clipping.
Master EQ: Many mixers offer on board graphic equalizers to control feedback and to function as master tone
controls for the main mix. Some mixers even feature a separate graphic EQ just for the monitor mix. More sophisticated equalizers can even visually indicate what frequencies are feeding back, and some can even automatically find
and eliminate problem frequencies that are causing feedback.
On Board Effects: Some mixers offer onboard digital multi effects. This feature gives the user a number of
effect options. Some units are even capable of combining several effects at once, or assigning different effects to individual channels.
CD/Tape Control: This feature allows the user to connect a CD or tape deck to the mixer to play recorded music
for the audience. A rotary knob lets the sound engineer adjust the volume of the music program to the appropriate level.
Master Mute Switch: Some mixers also feature a Master Mute button that when activated mutes all the channels, but still allows the Tape/CD input to function. This allows the audience to listen to music during an intermission,
but still preserves all the mixer settings for instant recall as soon as the break is over.
Mixer Patch Panels
All live sound mixers feature a complex matrix of inputs and outputs that comprise the patch panel. Usually
located at the back of the mixer, the patch panel offers various signal routing options, and allows the mixer to be connected to main power amps, monitor amps, powered speakers, recording devices, and effect units. There is no need to
memorize every possible scenario available. Rest assured that major manufacturers like Mackie®, Peavey®, and
Yamaha® have anticipated your future needs. As your sound system expands, a quick glance at the manual will provide you with all the information you need to make the proper connections.
Types of Live Sound Mixers
Powered Mixers
Powered mixers are available in two configurations: Top Box and Console. Top box models are compact square
or rectangular boxes. They are a good choice for situations where the system is basically adjusted before the performance, and just minor tweaking is needed during operation. A console style mixer, on the other hand, is designed to be
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operated by a sound person during the entire course of the event. They are flat with a slightly tilted upward angle that
allows for comfortable operation by a person seated in front of the unit.
Powered mixers contain several components all housed in a single unit. This makes them economical, portable,
and easy to set up and operate. They consist of a multi channel mixer, one or more equalizers, one or more power
amps, a reverb unit, and sometimes on board special effects. Because all these components are wired together internally, there is no need for complicated wiring connections by the user. Basically you plug in your mics, connect your
speakers, and you are ready to go.
Most modern powered mixers also offer phantom power for supplying the necessary voltage to operate condenser mics. Many units contain two separate power amps that can be configured to either have both amps drive the
main speakers, or to have one amp drive the mains while the other amp drives the monitor speakers.
Powered mixers work well for small combos, and are also perfect for installations where basic sound amplification is required. They are ideal for small churches, sporting events, schools, aerobic classes, and any situation that
requires quality sound, coupled with ease of operation.
Powered mixers designed by top manufacturers such as Peavey®, Yamaha®, and Mackie® are capable of
delivering high quality sound reinforcement in an economical, user friendly package.
Unpowered Mixers
Unpowered mixers are available in a variety of sizes ranging from small compact styles all the way up to huge
mega-channel concert models. They are usually configured as console models, but some smaller units are capable of
being rack mounted for increased portability. Unpowered mixers are generally used in more complicated, larger sound
systems, and are designed to interface with other outboard components such as power amps, effect units, equalizers,
compressor/limiters, and crossovers. They can also be used in conjunction with powered speaker enclosures.
Unlike powered mixers, unpowered models are not restricted by size. Their larger footprint allows them to
have a large number of channels, an increased number of auxiliary busses, more sophisticated channel equalization,
and more patching and routing options.
Usually larger unpowered mixers are located off stage, and operated by a sound person who is constantly
monitoring the performance of the system. In this situation, a multi-channel PA snake is used to connect the mixing
console to the mics, power amps, and any other components that are located on the stage.
Digital Mixers
Digital mixers are not for novices, but in the hands of a professional sound engineer, they provide total control
over sound system performance. Digital mixers are capable of taking a snapshot at any given point in time of all individual channel settings, as well as all global mixer settings for any particular venue, musical group, or even individual
songs. That snapshot can then be recalled at anytime in the future with just the push of a button.
This function enables a sound engineer to recall the optimum settings for each venue that a band may return to
without doing a complete new sound check and set up. House engineers could store the settings for each band that
may play at a particular venue, and then recall those settings when the group returns.
Digital mixers can store all parameters including volume, equalization, effects, and dynamics both globally,
and for each individual channel. They usually feature motorized faders, and also offer highly flexible routing.
Programming a digital mixer requires some effort during initial set up procedures, but the ability to recall
scenes stored in memory makes for an easier, and more accurate mixing experience in the long run.
Signal Processors
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Reverb
Reverb is the most widely used effect in pro sound. Even the most basic mixer/amps offer some type of on
board reverb that is produced by either a mechanical spring reverb system, or a digital signal processing (DSP) system.
Larger sound systems employ stand alone digital outboard effect units that offer several varieties of reverb, along with
delay, chorusing, and other effects.
Reverb affects the listener's sense of spatiality. Every venue and room has its own naturally occurring reverb.
A small room that contains a lot of sound absorbing material such as carpets and drapes may have very little natural
reverb. On the other hand, we've all experienced the excessive reverberation that occurs in a large cavernous space
like a school gymnasium.
Reverb used in the correct amount can greatly enhance a vocal performance. We all sound better singing in the
shower because of the natural reverberation that is added to our voices by the sound reverberating off of the hard tiles.
In a live performance, the vocals often sound flat and dull when no reverb is added to the mix. By adding reverb, the
sound engineer creates a sense of larger spatiality for the listener. This in turn creates a natural sustain for the vocalists
which enhances their performance, and makes it easier for them to sing.
Delay
Delay could be described as reverb taken to the extreme. A delayed sound creates an echo or series of repeats.
As an example, if you shout in an airplane hanger, you will hear your voice repeated several times. A short delay
added to the vocal mix can improve a performance in much the same way that reverb does. A longer delay, combined
with a number of repeats can also be used for special effects at certain points in a performance.
Chorus
Adding chorusing to a vocal performance creates a sense of doubling. A chorus effect unit takes the original
signal and mixes it with the same signal slightly detuned or slightly delayed. Used on a solo vocal performance, it
creates a sense of two people singing the same passage. Added to a group of singers, it creates the impression of a
larger number of voices than are actually present.
Equalization
Equalization or EQ can be used to affect the overall tone of a performance, and also to control feedback.
Basically, equalizers take the sound spectrum and chop into parts referred to as bands. They are usually 15, 27, or 31
bands, and can be either mono or stereo. Each band of the EQ has a slider that can either be raised to boost a frequency,
or lowered to cut a frequency. These units are often referred to as graphic equalizers because the resulting curve produced by the position of the sliders provides a visual image of the sound curve selected.
Each band on an equalizer is assigned to a particular frequency designated by hertz or Hz. Moving from left to
right, the frequencies range from Low to Mid to High. The movement of an individual slider up or down is measured
in decibels or dB. By adding or subtracting frequencies the sound engineer can control the overall tone of the sound
system.
While an EQ can affect tone, its most important use in a sound system is controlling feedback. Feedback is that
loud, unpleasant squeal that we have all heard at times when attending a live performance. It's not only annoying, it
can be ear splitting. When feedback occurs, not all frequencies are the culprit. Every venue has particular frequencies
that are more prevalent or hot than others. A sound engineer can use an equalizer to locate and cut the problem frequencies bringing the room back to a flat response. Some equalizers even have LED indicators for each slider that light up
to visually identify problem frequencies.
More sophisticated equalizers offer more than just the option to cut or boost frequencies. Semi-parametric, or
quasi-parametric equalizers are sometimes referred to as sweep EQs. This type of equalizer lets the user select more
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precisely exactly what frequencies to cut or boost. Parametric equalizers have cut and boost capability, along with frequency sweep knobs, but they also allow the user to select between a narrow or broad bandwidth for the frequency
that is being adjusted. This determines how many adjoining frequencies will be affected.
Feedback Eliminators
Some companies such as Sabine® and Peavey® offer automatic feedback control processors. These units can
automatically seek out problem frequencies and then cut those frequencies as soon as feedback is detected. A good quality unit will use precise notch filters to cut the offending frequencies without affecting the overall sound of the system.
Real Time Analyzers
Real time analyzers or RTAs are used by professionals to detect frequencies that may cause feedback in a particular environment. An RTA generates Pink Noise over the loudspeaker system. Pink Noise is present in equal
amounts over all frequencies of the sound spectrum. An omnidirectional microphone is attached to the RTA to pick
up the Pink Noise. The RTA unit then graphically displays which frequencies are hot, and likely to cause feedback in
that particular venue. The sound engineer can then use a graphic equalizer to cut any problem frequencies in order to
bring the system back to a flat response.
Enhancers
Enhancers or Exciters add a high end sheen to the sound system which brightens the overall mix, and is effective for improving vocal performances. Rane®, Aphex®, & BBE® are brands that offer hi-quality Enhancers.
Crossovers
Crossovers can be either passive or active. All full range speaker enclosures have some type of a basic passive
crossover to protect the high frequency horn from damage caused by low end frequencies. Passive crossovers have a
fixed crossover point that is selected by the manufacturer and that can not be changed. Also, some sub cabinets come
with a built in crossover which sends the low frequencies to the sub, but lets the higher frequencies pass on to the full
range speakers. Some enclosures have a bi-amp option that bypasses the internal passive crossover, and that is
designed for use with an external active crossover.
An active crossover allows the sound engineer to pick his own crossover frequencies. More sophisticated
sound systems employ multiple speakers and amplifiers to handle the different low, mid, and high frequencies. The
most common system is a two way system that uses sub cabinets for the lows, and full range cabinets for the mids
and highs. One amplifier is used to power the subs, and another amplifier is used to power the full range enclosures
which handle the mids and highs. The result is a tight punchy bass tone, with nice clear mids and highs. This type of
set up is referred to as bi-amping. In addition to using two amplifiers, the sound engineer would use an active two-way
electronic crossover to select the crossover frequency between the subs and the full range enclosures. The most
popular crossover frequency between the subs and full range cabinets is usually 100Hz or 150Hz.
An active 2-way crossover not only lets the sound engineer pick his own crossover frequencies, it also gives
him volume controls for both the lows and the highs. This is useful for blending and balancing the overall frequencies
in relation to one another. Crossovers are also available in a 3-way configuration that can be used in conjunction with
separate power amps for the lows, mids, and highs. Most bi-amped or tri-amped systems are run in mono, but stereo
crossovers are also available that can be used to bi-amp or tri-amp in the stereo mode.
Compressor Limiters
Compressors are used to control the dynamic range of a sound system. They help smooth out the system by
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bringing down the dynamic peaks in a performance, while at the same time bringing up the softer passages. They have
a threshold adjustment that determines at what point the compressor activates, and they also have attack and release
knobs to determine how quickly the compression starts and stops. In normal operation, the compression should not be
noticeable to the audience. To achieve this, the attack and release points need to be set so that the compressor eases on
and off. This is referred to as soft knee compression.
Compressors also have a ratio adjustment which determines just how much compression occurs when the unit
is activated. The ratio is calibrated in decibels. A 3:1 ratio setting would mean that for every 3dB of input, only 1dB of
output occurs. A normal setting for the overall vocal mix might be a 2:1 ratio, while a 4:1 ratio might be used on a kick
drum.
Compressors can also be adjusted to function as a limiter. A limiter is designed to protect the loudspeakers from
damage due to an extreme spike in sound pressure that might occur from someone dropping a microphone, or accidentally maxing out a volume slider on the mixing board. To set a compressor to function as a limiter, the attack knob
should be set to activate immediately. This is referred to as hard knee compression. The compression ratio should be
set very high, even at infinity, in order to ensure that the unit acts as a failsafe device to protect the loudspeakers.
Noise Gates
Noise gates can automatically mute a channel, or even the entire sound system, when no signal is present. They
have attack and release knobs so that the gate can be adjusted to open and close without being noticeable to the audience. By turning off vocal mics that do not have signal present, the gate can reduce the possibility of feedback occurring. By muting the system during quiet moments in the performance, a gate can mask any operational hum that might
be coming over the loudspeakers. Gates are also often used when micing drums
to automatically turn the drum mics off and on by sensing when signal is present
or not. This helps eliminate bleed through.
Power Amplifiers
Basics: Professional power amplifiers are rack mountable and designed to fit into a standard 19" audio rack
case. Most models are stereo, meaning that they consist of two independent amps. They have on/off switches, line
level inputs, volume controls, and speaker outputs. Heavier duty models are normally fan cooled. Inputs are usually
1/4" or XLR. Outputs can be 1/4", binding posts, or Speakon connectors. Amps that offer a variety of input and output
connections provide the most versatility. Power amplifiers are designed to receive line level signals from a preamp
such as a live sound mixing board or a DJ mixer. When choosing an amplifier, stick with major name brands such as
Crown®, Peavey® and QSC®.
Power: The most basic specification to be considered when choosing a power amp is how much output it produces. This is measured in wattage. To determine the proper amount of wattage that is needed, the ohms and power
rating of the speaker enclosure must be taken into consideration. If a speaker enclosure has a continuous (RMS) power
rating of 250 watts, a general rule of thumb is to choose a power amp with twice that amount of wattage. As an example, if you are connecting a 250 watt, 8 ohm speaker cabinet to each side of a stereo power amplifier, you would
choose an amp that has an output of 500 watts per side at 8 ohms.
Headroom: Choosing an amplifier that has twice the power rating of the speaker enclosure ensures that the amp
has sufficient headroom. An under powered amplifier will result in clipping. Clipping causes distortion. This not only
sounds bad, but can also damage the speaker system. A power amplifier with plenty of headroom can reproduce the
dynamic peaks in a performance without clipping. These peaks then arrive at the speakers clean and undistorted. As
long as the peaks are not distorted, professional speakers can reproduce these peaks without causing any damage. An
under powered amp will cause more speaker damage than an amplifier with a higher power rating.
Ohms: Speaker cabinets are generally available in 16, 8, or 4 ohm configurations. Power amplifiers put out
different wattage levels at different ohms ratings. It is important to match the ohms load of the speaker cabinets to the
ohms of the amplifier. The output specifications at different ohms levels are usually printed right on the back of the
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power amp. If not, refer to the owner's manual. If an amplifier's maximum output is 500 watts per side at 4 ohms, running it an ohm load above that will result in reduced output. For instance, an amplifier that puts out 500 watts per side
at 4 ohms will only have an output of approximately 250 watts at 8 ohms. Never run an amplifier below its minimum
ohm rating. Putting a 2 ohm load per side on an amp that is rated at 4 ohms per side will result in lower output,
increased distortion, and overheating, all of which can damage the amplifier and the loud speakers.
When speaker cabinets are combined in parallel, their total ohm load changes. The chart below is an example
of how it works.
16 ohms + 16 ohms = 8 ohm total load
8 ohms + 8 ohms = 4 ohm total load
4 ohms + 4 ohms = 2 ohm total load
If you connect two 8 ohm speakers to each side of a stereo power amplifier, the ohms load would be 4 ohms
per side. If each speaker is rated at 250 watts continuous, each pair of speakers can then handle 500 watts continuous.
In keeping with the rule of thumb of having an amplifier output that is twice that of the speaker system, you would
want to choose an amplifier with a power rating of 1000 watts per side at 4 ohms.
Speakers wired in series combine their ohms rating. The chart below is an example.
16 ohms + 16 ohms = 32 ohm total load
8 ohms + 8 ohms = 16 ohm total load
4 ohms + 4ohms = 8 ohm total load
There is a common misconception regarding wiring speakers in series. Wiring speakers in series must be done
inside the speaker enclosure itself. Some people mistakenly believe that running a wire from one speaker enclosure to
another will result in the enclosures being wired in series. This is a false assumption. The input jacks on the back of
speaker enclosures are all wired in parallel. Running a wire from one speaker to another will still result in a parallel
wiring configuration.
It's also best to use speaker enclosures that all have the same ohm rating. This makes it easier to calculate the
total ohm load. Mixing speakers with different ohm ratings will result in different volume levels from the speaker
cabinets. It also makes it harder to calculate the exact ohm load that you are putting on the amplifier.
Bridge Mode: Almost all power amps consist of a left and a right amp. These individual amps can be used in
several different configurations. When used side by side, and wired to the same type enclosures, they are in stereo
mode. When used with an electronic crossover, they can be configured in a bi-amp mode with one side powering the
sub cabinets, and the other side powering the full range enclosures. In bridge mode, the amplifier is configured as a
mono amp, and the power outputs from both sides of the amp are combined together. For an example when bridged,
a power amp with an output of 400 watts per side in stereo mode will be reconfigured to a mono amp with 800 watts
of output.
Be careful using bridge mode. Before switching to bridge mode, consult your owner's manual, or a sound tech
at a professional music store. Make sure you understand how bridging the amplifier will affect its ohms rating, and
also make sure you are making the correct wiring connections across the speaker terminals. Incorrect procedures
setting up an amplifier in bridge mode, can result in damage to the amplifier, to the speaker enclosure, or both.
Damping Factor: Damping factor refers to how the amplifier controls the movement of the loudspeaker. A
higher number indicates a better damping factor. When sound is sent to a speaker, the speaker will move to reproduce
that sound, but some residual movement can occur by the speaker cone after the sound is reproduced. An amp with a
good damping factor, will limit this residual movement, and quickly restore the speaker cone to its original position.
This results in a tighter, punchier sound, especially on the low end.
Reliability: Don't get too bogged down with insignificant specifications. The most important specification is
reliability. If your amplifier breaks down, your performance grinds to a halt. Choose an amplifier made by a major
manufacturer that has a reputation for reliability such as Peavey®, or Crown®. If you stick with a major name brand,
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you can rest assured that all the specifications will meet the proper standards.
Final Tips: If your amplifier is turned on, and power is applied to the speakers, do not activate any on/off
switches on other components in the system. Doing so can cause a loud popping sound in the speaker system that is
potentially damaging. To avoid this possibility, turn your amplifier on last when setting up, and turn your amplifier off
first when the performance is over.
Also, make sure that you operate your amplifier with the volume knobs turned all the way up. This provides
the maximum headroom, and reduces the chances of clipping. It also prevents the mixer/preamp from overdriving the
power amp and causing distortion. Control the overall volume of the sound system at the mixing board.
Make sure that you transport your amplifier in a sturdy rack case. This protects it from the elements, and prevents knobs and binding posts from shearing off during transport. Also, when operating the amplifier, make sure that it
has plenty of ventilation to keep it cool.
Speaker Enclosures
Power Ratings: Several power ratings are used to describe the power handling capacity of individual speaker
enclosures. Continuous power refers to the speaker's ability to operate comfortably at a certain power rating all night
long. A program power rating refers to your speaker's ability to reproduce recorded
music that has been dynamically compressed, and that does not contain any unexpected spikes or peaks like those that occur during a live performance. Peak power
refers to the momentary handling capacity of the speaker as it reproduces dynamic
peaks in the music. A speaker can only operate at peak power for a brief second.
For live sound, a good analogy is your car speedometer. It might peak at 120
mph (Peak power), but you are interested in how it performs in the normal operating
range of 60 mph (Continuous power). Therefore, your continuous power rating is the
important number to consider when selecting speaker enclosures. When deciding on
the size and power handling capacity of any speaker enclosure, the type of music to
be performed, and the size of the average venue must also be taken into consideration.
Unpowered Speakers: Unpowered speaker enclosures need to be matched
with power amps to ensure that they are rated at the correct wattage and ohm load to
work properly with the amp that is being used. Unless you are confident in your
knowledge of pro audio, you should seek out the advice of a pro sound expert at a
professional music store. As always, stick with reliable brands such as JBL®,
Peavey®, Mackie®, Yamaha® or Electro Voice®.
Most speaker cabinets are referred to as full range. This means they are capable of reproducing lows, mids, and
highs. Basic full range models have a low end speaker called a woofer that is designed to handle bass frequencies, and
a horn or tweeter to handle mids and highs. A two-way passive crossover is built into the enclosure to protect the horn
from damaging low end frequencies. Enclosures like this are referred to as two way systems.
Some full range enclosures are three way systems. Along with a woofer and a tweeter, they include a dedicated
horn or speaker to handle just the mid range frequencies. A passive three-way crossover is used to send the proper frequencies to each individual speaker component.
More advanced sound systems usually employ separate cabinets referred to as sub woofers or subs that are
designed to handle just low end frequencies. They use 15" or 18" speakers that are designed to add thump and punch
to the overall system. Normally, a dedicated amp is used to power the subs (referred to as bi-amping), and an electronic crossover is used to divide and route frequencies to the proper amps and enclosures. Some sub cabinets have
built in passive crossovers, referred to as high pass filters, which split off the low frequencies, but allow the mid and
high frequencies to be sent to the full range enclosures.
Powered Speakers: Many people prefer to use powered speakers for their portability, ease of set up, and factory
matched components. Powered speakers have amplifiers and crossovers built right into the speaker enclosures. These
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components are designed by the manufacturer to optimize the performance of the speaker system. This eliminates the
need to carry separate power amps and crossovers, and it simplifies wiring procedures.
Monitor Speakers: The most common monitor enclosures are wedge shaped cabinets designed to be placed on
the floor and aimed back at the performers to enable them to hear themselves and their band mates. Usually a 12"
speaker with a horn is sufficient for monitoring vocals. If the monitor is being used for something like a kick drum, a
15" speaker with a horn is a better choice.
Microphone polar patterns can affect the proper placement of monitor speakers, so check with your sound
expert if you are not sure of how they interact. The proximity of monitor speakers to microphones on stage can lead
to feedback problems. You should have a dedicated EQ for the monitor system to eliminate the problem frequencies
that are causing the feedback. Also, the monitor system should be powered by its own amplifier. This allows the monitors to be adjusted to a different volume level than the main system.
Aside from floor monitors, there are smaller enclosures referred to as mic stand monitors. They can be placed
on a mic stand or on a keyboard in close proximity to a performer. They can be powered or unpowered, they take up
less floor space, and they provide close up monitoring that is perfect for certain applications.
In-ear wireless systems are also available. The performer wears small ear buds that fit into the ear canal, and
that function as mini headphones. The wireless system transmitter sends sound directly from the mixing board to a belt
pack receiver, which is connected to the ear buds. This eliminates feed back problems, blocks out loud stage volume,
and allows the performer freedom of movement. In-ear monitor systems offer many of the same features as wireless
microphones, such as true diversity, multiple channels, and auto scanning to select the best transmission frequency.
Wiring and Connections
The Audio Chain: When you are putting together a sound system, you are creating an audio
chain. That chain is only as good as its weakest link, and that includes your wiring. After you have
spent your hard-earned money to buy the best components that you can afford, you need to make
sure that you use the proper high-quality wiring and connectors to link all of your sound gear together. Cheap or incorrect wiring can introduce hum & noise to the system, result in poor sound quality, cause damage to
components, and result in system failure.
Quality cabling is an often overlooked expense when putting together a sound system. The number of cables
needed can add up quickly, so make sure that you include them in your budget.
Signal Flow: It is important to connect your components in the correct sequence in order for your system to
function properly. A basic main signal path should be as follows. The initial sound sources (microphones, instruments,
recorded music) should be plugged into the inputs of the mixing board. The main outputs of the mixing board should
be routed to the inputs of an equalizer, and the outputs of the equalizer should then be plugged into the power amp
inputs. Finally, the power amp speaker outputs should be connected to the speaker enclosure inputs.
If you are using powered speakers, you would route the signal from the mixer main outputs to the inputs of
the EQ, and then connect the outputs of the EQ directly to the power amps located in the speaker enclosures.
If you are using a crossover and bi-amping, the crossover should be the last component before the power amps.
Effects processors should not be in the main signal path, but rather connected to an Aux Bus, or to an individual channel Insert Jack. One popular trick used by sound engineers is to route the return of a signal processor to the input of
an available channel strip on the main mixing board. This allows the engineer to use the channel strip's equalizer controls to contour the frequencies that are being affected by the signal processor.
The monitor signal path should be routed from an Aux Out or Monitor Out on the main mixer to the inputs of
an equalizer dedicated to the monitor system. The outputs of the equalizer should then be connected to the inputs of
the monitor power amps. Finally, the outputs of the monitor power amps should be connected to the inputs on the
monitor speaker enclosures.
Shielded or Unsheilded: A shielded wire consists of an insulated hot wire that is wrapped in braided or spiral
shielding to reduce hum and outside interference. Unshielded wire consists of two insulated conductors with no shielding, and is designed to carry heavy power loads directly to speakers. Using unshielded wire for any other purpose will
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introduce hum and interference into the system. Using shielded wire for speaker cables will waste power. The general
rule is to use shielded wire everywhere in the system, except for your speaker cables which should be unshielded.
Balanced or Unbalanced: Unbalanced cables are shielded cables that use one insulated hot wire wrapped in
shielding that serves as the ground. These are often referred to as guitar cables or line level cables, and are terminated
with TS or RCA connectors. They are used to plug in instruments, and to route signals from one component to another.
Unbalanced cable lengths should be kept as short as possible. Long unbalanced cable runs can introduce hum and
interference, and also result in the loss of high frequency signals.
Balanced cables consist of three wires: a positive, a negative, and a ground. The positive and negative cables
are wired out of phase. This results in cancellation of hum and outside interference. Balanced cables can be run long
distances without picking up noise, or suffering from frequency drop out. They are terminated with either XLR or TRS
connectors. They are commonly used to connect microphones to mixing boards, to route signals between components
that have balanced inputs and outputs, and to send signals to powered speaker enclosures. To sum up, keep cable
lengths as short as possible, and use balanced cables whenever you can.
Speaker Cables
As mentioned previously, speaker cables consist of two insulated wires and no shielding. Shielding would add
resistance to the signal path, and waste power that the amplifier is sending to the speaker enclosures. Speaker cables
are terminated with TS, Banana, or Speakon connectors. Speaker cable runs should be kept as short as possible.
Speaker cable is available in 16, 14, and 12 gauge wire. For short cable runs of 25' to 30' feet, 16 gauge wire
will usually suffice. For cable lengths of 50' to 75', 14 gauge is recommended. For 100' cable runs, 12 gauge should
be the choice. Your best bet is to use the heaviest gauge wire that you can, especially for longer cable runs.
When selecting speaker gauges, you also need to consider the of amount of wattage that the power amp is putting out. To send high amounts of wattage requires the use of a heavy gauge cable. A popular analogy is to think of your
speaker cable as a pipe. A small diameter pipe will only let so much water flow through it no matter how much water is
available at the source. Increasing the diameter of the pipe will increase the flow of water. Increasing the thickness of
the speaker cable by using a lower gauge wire will allow more power to flow from the amplifier to the speaker system.
Plugs and Connectors
You should familiarize yourself with different plugs and connectors that are used in professional sound systems.
RCA: A connector commonly used on consumer products such as DVD players, but that also are used in some
pro sound applications. They are normally used in pairs to make left/right connections. They are named after the RCA
Corporation that popularized the connectors. They are shielded, and unbalanced.
1/8" Plug: Sometimes referred to as a mini jack, 1/8 connectors are often used for stereo headphone jacks, or
for connecting devices such as iPods.
1/4" or TS Plug: Also called a phone plug because it was originally used on telephone switch boards. It's most
commonly seen as the plug used on guitar cables, and line level cables. It has two connections, a tip that is hot, and a
sleeve that is the ground. It is shielded and unbalanced.
TRS Plug: This is also a 1/4" plug, but it has three connections. It consists of a tip, a ring, and a sleeve. The
three connections enable it to be wired as a balanced line level connector. It can also be wired as a stereo headphone
jack, and is also used on insert cables to complete an in/out connection.
XLR Connector: A three pin connector for low impedance microphone cables, and balanced line level cables.
It has a ground, and two hot connections that are wired out of phase. It is the best choice for long, quiet cable runs.
Speakon Connector: Used for connecting power amps and speakers. Professionals like it because it locks in
place, and can not be accidentally disconnected.
Banana Jack: A two-pronged plug used on speaker cables that is designed to plug into the binding posts on
power amplifiers. They can be piggy backed for multiple speaker connections.
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Recording
Computer Recording
Overview
The most popular method of modern recording is using computer based recording software. Recording software is usually referred to as a DAW, meaning Digital Audio Workstation. There are a number of components that are
involved in creating a computer based recording system. Aside from a computer and recording software, you will also
need microphones, preamps, audio interfaces, effect processors, studio monitors, headphones, and quality cabling. All of these components need to be compatible in order for your recording system to
function properly.
Unless you are a seasoned professional, you will need the
guidance of a recording specialist at a professional music store.
Compatibility of components and sufficient system requirements are
a must. Establishing a relationship with a recording specialist will
save you time, money, and aggravation.
The type of computer that you choose to use is the most basic
consideration. You will need to decide whether you prefer a Mac or a
PC as your operating system. While most software and hardware
components can work with either, there are some that cannot. You
will also need to make sure that the version of the operating system
that you are using can support the recording software that you intend to use.
Digital audio recording eats up a lot of hard drive space and CPU resources. Using the overworked household
computer for your recording projects may not be a good idea. Instead, you may want to consider purchasing a dedicated music computer that is reserved strictly for recording, and for a minimum number of other roles. You should
also make sure that it is well maintained for virus protection and administration.
Buy the best computer that you can afford. The faster the hard drive speed the better, the more hard drive storage the better, and the more RAM the better. Do not buy a computer that only meets the minimum requirements of the
recording software program that you intend to use. To ensure the optimum performance of your recording system,
your computer's specifications need to exceed the minimum requirements of your software by a substantial margin.
You will also want to make sure that your computer can burn a DVD for backup, and also burn a CD for
personal use or as a master.
Control Surfaces
Mixing with a mouse can be tedious. You may want to consider purchasing a Control Surface. The knobs and faders on a Control Surface are more intuitive and familiar, and that makes for a more pleasurable mixing experience.
Most Control Surfaces also feature transport functions such as start, stop, fast
forward, pause, and rewind. Many models are even equipped with motorized
faders. Control Surfaces use standard protocols such as USB, FireWire, and
MIDI to manipulate DAW recording software.
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Audio Interfaces
You will need to get your sound sources such as vocals and instruments into your computer. It is possible do
this via an internal sound card, but it is not recommended. Sound cards are not designed for serious recording. They
do not have high quality analog to digital converters. An Audio Interface is the proper device to use for this purpose.
Audio interfaces contain high quality A/D converters that are designed for recording applications. A/D converters take digital snapshots of an analog signal and convert it into a series of binary numbers (zeros and ones) that your
computer recognizes as digital information. You should choose an interface that has a high Sampling Rate and a large
bit depth.
Sampling Rate refers to the number of digital snapshots an A/D converter takes per second. Each snapshot is
referred to as a bit. Bit Depth refers to the number of bits in each snapshot. A higher sampling rate and a larger bit
depth will result in a more accurate representation of the sound being sampled.
CD quality is 16-bit/44.1kHz, and that will be the specification of your final product. However, you should
record in the best resolution possible. If your Audio Interface is capable of a sampling rate of 24-bit/96kHz, using that
rate will result in a higher quality end product.
When choosing an Audio Interface, you will also need to consider the type and number of in and out (I/O) connections that the unit has. A fully functional interface should have connections for ¼ inch line cables, XLR mic cables,
headphones, studio monitors, MIDI connections, and other digital
audio protocols. You should also make sure that the interface has
high quality mic preamps for the XLR mic inputs.
Audio interfaces communicate digital information to a
computer using standard protocols such as USB, USB2, FireWire
400, FireWire 800, and sometimes Ethernet. Again, check with
your recording specialist to ensure computer serial buss compatibility.
If more than one player will be using the Audio Interface
at one time, you will need to determine how many tracks and inputs can be used simultaneously. If you are recording
by yourself, you don't need many I/O connections, but if you are recording with other musicians or trying to record a
band live, you will need an Audio Interface that can handle multiple signal paths simultaneously.
In addition to performing A/D conversion, many Audio Interfaces offer Phantom Power, and some function as
a mic preamp. A few even employ a built in vacuum tube to impart classic tube warmth to the mic preamp.
Software
When choosing software, you should once again seek out the advice of your
personal recording specialist at your favorite professional music store. You will need his advice to
ensure that the software is compatible with your computer system, and that the software you purchase is designed for the purpose that you intend to use it for.
Most Audio Interfaces come with some type of recording software, but it is often limited in
performance. You will probably want to purchase a more expanded version. Multitrack software
functions very much like the older analog multitrack machines that you are probably familiar with.
However, multitracking software is much more sophisticated. It will expand your options during the
mixing process, and allow greater manipulation of the material and tracks that you are working with. Most multitracking software also comes with multiple effects, and also includes a large number of tracks.
DAW
As mentioned previously, recording software is generally referred to as a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW.
A DAW can handle both MIDI and audio tracks, and contains other features such as sequencing, virtual effects, and
virtual instruments.
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Plug-ins
Various virtual effects, as well as virtual instruments, are available as Plug-ins. The term Plug-in simply means
that they can be added (plugged in) to an existing software program to give the user more options. When adding Plugins, you should check with your recording specialist in order to ensure compatibility.
Virtual Instruments
Virtual instruments are created by using synthesized or sampled sounds to recreate the sounds of real instruments. You cannot effectively play virtual instruments with a mouse. You will need a MIDI controller to perform that
function. A MIDI controller is more intuitive to use, and it also allows a musician to actually play the virtual instrument with the same nuances that he would use when playing a real instrument.
Mastering Software
Mastering software is designed to take your final stereo mix and bring it up to professional standards prior to
CD production. This type of software contains sophisticated processors such as equalizers and compressors to sculpt
the dynamic range and tonality of your mix to produce a more professional product. The basic idea is to end up with a
CD that will be of sufficient quality to sound good on standard home CD players, car radios and other common playback devices.
Rather than using mastering software, many recording professionals prefer to have their product mastered at a
professional recording studio. They believe that the mastering engineer brings a "fresh set of ears" to finalize their mix
without personal bias. A professional studio will also use the absolute best outboard processors to produce a high
quality final product.
Handheld Recorders
Handheld recorders are not only extremely portable, they also provide surprisingly high quality audio. Just
point the unit at the sound source, click the record button and you are instantly recording. These small units are loaded
with features and are capable of storing hours of recorded material on small, inexpensive SD (Secure Digital) cards.
Most handheld recorders use on board stereo condenser microphones to capture sound. The better models
record at 24-bit/96kHz. Most units provide XLR inputs and phantom power for connecting external microphones.
They also provide ¼ inch line level inputs for plugging in instruments.
You will need to consider what you intend to record before choosing the proper model to get the job done. Most handheld recorders are
designed to record in stereo mode. They can record anything that they are
pointed at and are great for recording live performances, meetings, lectures, sketching quick song ideas, and many other functions.
If you want a handheld recorder for doing quick multitrack
demos, you will want to choose a model that is designed for that purpose.
In addition to stereo mode, some models can function in a multitrack
mode that allows you to record four or eight tracks of material. Some
handheld recorders also offer effects, and some feature an on board
speaker for instant playback without the need for headphones.
Other features to look for are pre-record and auto-record. If you
are a little slow on the draw hitting the record button, you might miss just
a snippet of the beginning of the material that you are trying to record.
The pre-record function captures the last two seconds of sound that occurred just before you pressed record. The autorecord function starts recording automatically as soon as the recorder senses that sound is present. You can set the
threshold on the recorder to adjust the sensitivity as to when auto-record activates.
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Handheld recorders use the standard USB protocol to transfer digital audio directly to your computer. You can
record your material at any location, and then transfer it later to your computer where you can manipulate it further
using your recording software. Boss and Zoom are two companies that offer high quality handheld recorders.
Studio Monitors
Most studio monitors that are used for mixing are near-field monitors. That means that they are designed to be
used in close proximity to the ears of a mixing engineer. They are not designed to project sound across a room like
standard home stereo speakers. When a sound engineer is seated at the mixing console, his ears are positioned in what
is referred to as the sweet spot. Studio monitors need to be positioned so that sound arrives at both ears of the engineer
(the sweet spot) at the same time.
The usual recommended placement method is to set up an equilateral triangle (a triangle where all three sides
are equal) between the two monitor speakers and the head of the engineer. For instance, if the engineer is seated three
feet from each monitor speaker, the monitor speakers should be positioned 3
feet apart to form the base of the triangle, and the speakers angled at the left
and right ears of the sound engineer so that his head becomes the apex of the
triangle (the sweet spot). The sound engineer is now positioned directly in the
center of the stereo sound field.
Once you have decided on the placement of your monitors, you may
also want to consider purchasing a pair of isolation pads. These pads slip
under the monitor speakers and decouple them from the surface that they are
sitting on. This prevents any resonance from bass frequencies interacting with
the furniture and coloring the sound.
Studio monitors are also referred to as having a flat response. That
means that all frequencies (lows, mids, and highs) are heard just as they occur
in the mix. A studio monitor should not increase or decrease any particular frequencies. This is another reason why you can't use home stereo speakers as
studio monitors. Speakers designed for music listening are almost always
designed to color the sound by adding increased bass or high frequency
response. If you were to mix using this type of speaker, you may find out that
the great bass sound you thought you had captured is no longer present when
your material is played back on another system. Studio monitors with flat
response are designed to ensure an accurate reproduction of your original mix
without coloration.
Studio monitors can either be powered (active) or unpowered (passive). Unpowered studio monitors need to be
driven by a power amp, and require some extra cabling and connections. All power amps have their own sound colorations that may impact your mix. So if you choose to go with unpowered monitors, you will have to do some
research to match them with an amplifier that is designed for studio use.
Powered monitors contain components that are designed to compliment each other, and to function as a complete optimized system. Powered monitors are generally bi-amped. That means that they contain separate amplifiers
for the woofers and the tweeters. They also have internal crossovers that are designed to separate the low and high
frequencies, and then route them to the proper internal power amps. Using separate amps for the lows and highs results
in a cleaner high end, and a tighter bass response. If woofers and tweeters are connected to the same amplifier, any
clipping that is caused by low frequencies will also result in the high frequencies clipping and producing noticeable
distortion. In a bi-amped system, clipping that occurs in the low end amp will usually be inaudible. Meanwhile, the
separate high end amplifier is not clipped, and it continues to produce clean, undistorted highs.
Powered monitors are by far the most popular choice, and it's easy to see why. With powered monitors, there
is no need for the consumer to mix and match components and specifications trying to assemble a workable studio
monitor system. The manufacturer has done all the work for you. The enclosures themselves are designed to be
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non-resonant, and are often ported to better handle low end frequencies. The cabinets are already bi-amped, the manufacturer has selected the proper crossover points, and the power amps are matched to the individual speakers. The final
result is optimized performance, with a minimum of headaches.
Headphones
Headphones are used for a variety of purposes, and many styles are not designed for use by a recording engineer
working on a mix. Lightweight and open air headphones are designed for music listening, not studio monitoring. While
they are comfortable to wear, they allow outside noise to bleed in, and they allow the headphone
program to bleed out. By letting in outside noise, they do not provide enough isolation for someone
like a DJ or performing musician trying to listen to a headphone mix in a loud environment.
Conversely, by letting sound bleed out, they risk compromising a recording mix by letting a vocalist's headphone mix bleed out into the vocal mic. Supra-aural headphones which rest on the ear, but
do not enclose it, suffer from the same deficiencies in a studio environment.
The proper headphones for studio use are circumaural, closed back headphones.
Circumaural is a term used to describe headphones that completely cover the ear, and form a tight
seal against the head. This design, coupled with a closed back, provides the best isolation, and that
is exactly what a recording engineer is looking for.
When working on a mix using headphones, the headphones perform the same function as
your studio monitors, and just like your studio monitors, they should have a flat frequency
response. Most consumer headphones are designed for listening to music, and they color the sound
by adding increased bass response and/or using some type of equalization curve to improve performance.
Your best bet is to once again seek out the advice of your recording specialist as to purpose,
and proper specifications. Price will be an indicator of higher quality, and extended frequency range. You also need to
consider the comfort factor. You will be wearing your headphones for extended periods of time, so try them on and
make sure that they feel comfortable to wear.
Studio Microphones
Suffice it to say that you can never have enough microphones. Most studios use a large diaphragm condenser
mic as their main microphone, but they also usually have an arsenal of other mics that they can use for different situations. Dynamic mics are good for micing drums and instruments. Tube mics, tube preamps, and ribbon mics are often
used to provide warmth to vocal performances. Smaller condenser mics do a good job as drum overheads, or for
micing acoustic guitars.
One accessory that you will definitely need is a Pop-Filter for use with your main vocal mic. A good quality
Pop-Filter will eliminate breathe noise and plosives that occur when a vocalist or speaker pronounces a P or a B. For
a more detailed description of microphone types and terms, refer to the Microphone section.
Multitrack Recorders
While software based computer recording is the most popular method in use today, there are still many standalone hardware based digital multitrack recorders on the market. These units appeal to many recording enthusiasts
because of their portability and familiarity. They allow you to record without being connected to a computer, and they
function as a complete recording system all contained in just one unit. Just plug in your mics and instruments, and you
are ready to go. Unplug your multitrack, and you can carry your complete recording studio under your arm, and take it
over to your buddy's house.
Some models allow you to burn a CD internally, or you can transfer your digital audio to a computer at a later
time. You can then use your DAW software to further manipulate your material, and then burn a CD directly from your
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computer. Multitrack recorders store data either to an internal hard drive, or to some type of flash memory such as an
SD card or a USB memory stick. This allows for easy transfer of data from your multitrack into your computer. Many
multitracks also have USB outputs for direct transfer of data
to a computer.
You will need to consider what purpose you intend
to use a multitrack for. A small basic unit might be OK to
use as a sketch pad or to record band practice, but you will
need a more sophisticated unit if you are trying to turn out a
finished product. If you intend to use a unit that records to
an internal hard drive, you need to make sure that it has enough memory to handle the type of recording that you
intend to use it for. As always, you should consult with your recording specialist at a professional music store to make
sure that the multitrack that you purchase has the capabilities to suit your needs.
Another consideration when choosing a multitrack is the number of tracks that the machine can handle. While
the number of total tracks and virtual tracks may sound impressive, the main feature to look for is how many tracks
the machine can record simultaneously, and how many tracks it can play back simultaneously.
You should choose a multitrack that has quality mic preamps, and that also has built-in phantom power to handle condenser microphones. Other features vary from unit to unit. Many offer modeled effects for vocals and guitars.
Some include amp modeling, while others offer mastering tools such as dynamic processors. Some smaller units are
equipped with a built in microphone. Others can function as an audio interface, and some have transport functions
that can be used to function as a DAW control surface. Check with your recording specialist to see which features
may be useful to you.
Channel Strips
The mega-channel boutique consoles used in professional studios are way beyond the budget of most home
recording enthusiasts. However, if you record one track at a time, a channel strip may provide you with a single
channel that rivals the sonic quality of a professional mixing console. Channel strips use much higher quality components than those found in home studio mixers. A channel strip consists of a preamp along with EQ and other signal processors such as compressors, de-essers, enhancers, and noise gates. The preamp may be solid state, tube, or a hybrid of
both. Channel strips range in price from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. As with anything, you get
what you pay for. As the price increases, so does the quality of the components that are used in the manufacturing process.
Preamps
Preamps are available in solid state or tube models. There are also hybrid models that allow you to choose
between a solid state or tube signal path, or to even combine the two. Most recording engineers and performing artists
generally agree that a tube preamp adds subtle warmth to a vocal or instrumental performance.
Solid state preamps are often referred to as being more transparent. They are useful for capturing the authentic
sound of an instrument with minimal coloration of sound. Whether you choose solid state or tube, all preamps have
their own unique sound. As the budget allows, you will probably want to have multiple preamps on hand for different
recording situations.
There are also multiple channel preamps available. These are useful when you need to record multiple channels
simultaneously. They can be used when micing a drum set, or for recording live performances when several musicians
are singing and playing at once.
When selecting a preamp you will want to make sure that it has phantom power, and that it has enough ¼ inch
and XLR inputs to accommodate the instruments and microphones that you will be using. It should also have balanced
outputs to minimize any noise or hum. Preamps range in price from under one hundred dollars to several thousand
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dollars. So there are models available to fit any budget, or for any recording purpose.
Cabling
The two basic types of cabling found in a project studio are AC cables and audio cables, and the two do not
mix well together. We'll begin with AC cables.
AC Cables
All your components need to be connected to AC outlets that are part of the wiring system that supplies electricity to your home. AC power by nature is noisy and dirty, and it can cause noise and hum to leak into your recordings. To reduce the problem with noise, AC cables should be routed separately from audio cables, and as far away as
possible. They should never be run side by side.
Problems with hum are usually caused by ground loops. This occurs when different components do not share a
common ground. You may want to check with an electrician to make sure that the AC outlets in your studio are all
properly grounded. It is an even better idea to install a separate electrical circuit that is dedicated strictly to your
recording room. This will decouple your studio equipment from other household wiring that may introduce noise from
appliances and motors elsewhere in the house.
Another problem with AC wiring is that it does not always supply constant voltage to your equipment. The
power grid supplying electrical power to your home has voltage fluctuations that occur throughout the course of the
day and night. This fluctuation in voltage can cause momentary spikes or brownouts that may affect the performance
of your recording equipment. You may want to invest in a power conditioner from a company such as Furman®. A
power conditioner functions as a line regulator which smoothes out the spikes and dips from the electrical grid, and
provides your equipment with constant voltage.
One final consideration in dealing with AC wiring is a loss of power. Most people today are recording with a
computer, and a sudden power outage could cause the loss of valuable material. You may want to purchase UPS (uninterruptible power supply) from your favorite computer store. A UPS provides a battery backup power supply for your
computer, and in the event of a power loss, it will allow you time to save any important material before shutting down.
Audio Cables
This is an area where you don't want to skimp on price. There is no point in assembling an array of expensive
recording gear, and then connecting it all together with cheap cabling. Inexpensive cabling may be tempting due to
budget considerations, but it will cause problems with noise, hum, static, frequency dropout, and loss of signal strength.
Aside from these problems, cheap cabling will be unreliable and will often fail you at the worst of times.
The basic rule of thumb when purchasing audio cables for your studio is to buy the best cable that you can
afford, and to keep cable lengths as short as possible. Good quality cable will be well shielded against outside noise
and interference, and have a heavy outside jacket to ensure durability. When you have the option, use balanced line
level cables to connect components together. Balanced cables use three wires and are terminated with either a three
pin XLR connecter or a TRS phone plug. Balanced cables are configured so that one wire carries the signal while the
other two wires cancel out hum and noise.
Instrument cables used on guitar and bass are not balanced. They are configured with two wires; one carries
the signal, while the other provides shielding. They are more prone to allow hum and noise to leak in. Therefore, you
want to buy high quality instrument cables, and in lengths no longer than necessary. Studio mic cables are balanced
and can be run safely at longer distances, but again, don't overdo the cable length.
Aside from instrument cables, mic cables, and line level cables, other cables found in a project studio include
MIDI cables, Speakon cables, USB cables, and other computer protocol cables. Assembling and wiring a project
studio requires a basic understanding of the functions of the I/O (in and out) connections on various components, as
well as a familiarity with the terms used to describe the connectors that are used to terminate the wiring. Do your
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homework so that when you consult with your personal recording specialist that you are both speaking the same language. For a more detailed description of wiring, connectors, and audio terms, refer to the Pro Sound section.
Duplicators
Duplicators can make multiple copies of CDs or DVDs, and they can duplicate both audio and data. Duplicators are popular with churches, bands, and anyone
else that wants to make their material available for distribution. Some models are
designed to copy only CDs or DVDs, but most machines can duplicate both. EZ
Dupe® is one company that offers a wide range of choices.
Duplicators can be either stand-alone units, or computer-based. In a stand
alone unit, you place a master disc into the machine and make copies from that.
Some basic machines make only one copy at a time, but most stand-alone units can
make multiple copies and are referred to as towers. Towers feature multiple disc trays
stacked on top of one another. The number of disc trays that are available indicates
the number of copies that can be made simultaneously. Before deciding on which
model to purchase, you will need to consider the output volume that will be needed
for your purposes. If you need a very high amount of output volume, you may want
to consider an automated duplicator that does not have to be manually reloaded each
burn cycle, as does a stand-alone tower unit.
With a computer-based duplicator there is no need to burn a master disc to
load into the machine. Your master can be stored right in your computer and sent to
either a tower or automated duplicator via USB or other standard computer protocols. You can also store multiple disc
images on your computer for later recall. There are other duplicators that are disc publishers. They not only copy a CD
or DVD, but they also print a label to provide you with a finished product.
All duplicators burn CDs and DVDs at a high speed. Most machines copy CDs in the range of 32X to 52X.
DVD disc writing speed will be somewhat slower due to the complexity of the material being copied. There are even
machines that will add copy-protection to your discs to prevent your material from being reproduced by someone who
is unauthorized. For mass production, there are duplicator towers that can be linked together to increase output volume.
Acoustical Room Treatment
Aside from dealing with all the hardware and software that goes into creating a project studio, you will also
want to consider the acoustics in the room that you intend to use for recording. The goal is to achieve a space that is
acoustically accurate. You do not want the acoustics in your studio room to color or degrade your recordings. Once
again, you should seek out the advice of your personal recording consultant at your favorite professional music store.
He will use his personal expertise, and input from a reputable manufacturer such as Auralex®, to suggest the proper
acoustical room treatment for your studio room.
You will need some acoustical absorption panels to eliminate
slapback and flutter echoes. Acoustical absorption panels are scientifically engineered to deal with these problems. Nailing up some old
egg crates and using fiberglass insulation from the local hardware
store is simply not going to get the job done. Absorption panels are
available in different thicknesses, and they employ a variety of surface shapes to help absorb sound. If you want to be a little more stylish, fabric covered acoustic panels can do the same job while giving
your studio a more professional appearance.
Bass Traps are designed to absorb low frequencies. They
alleviate the build up of bass nodes that often occur in room corners
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or where the wall meets the ceiling. This helps to create a flatter low frequency room response.
Sound Diffusers are another type of acoustical treatment. They can be made of foam or bamboo, and they
come in various shapes and sizes. Their purpose is to eliminate hot spots or nulls by keeping sound waves from grouping. This can add a sense of openness to your recording room, and when used in conjunction with absorption panels,
they help create a high degree of accuracy for your recording environment.
Isolation products are also available to decouple your speakers, monitors and mic stands from the floor or furniture surfaces. Other isolation products are designed to be used with microphones to prevent bleed from off axis sources.
You may want to consider a Room Kit. These kits come with a variety of acoustical treatment products that are
designed to increase overall room accuracy. They are available at different price points. Consult with your personal
recording advisor to see which Room Kit is the best fit for your recording studio, and your budget.
Ukuleles
Overview
The ukulele originated in Hawaii. It was first popularized on the U.S mainland during the
1920s. Part of its appeal was portability, and the fact that it was relatively inexpensive.
Manufacturers such as the C.F. Martin® Company recognized the trend and began producing highquality ukuleles.
The instrument remained popular during the 30s, 40s and 50s. Many American soldiers
who rotated through Hawaii during World War II fell in love with the instrument and brought it
home with them.
By the mid 1950s, the emergence of Rock and Roll had brought the guitar front and center
as the most popular instrument in America. Ukuleles faded in popularity, and many of the instruments produced during the next several decades were merely cheap plastic models.
The ukulele began to have a rebirth during the 1990s, and it has continued to grow in popularity ever since. Many manufacturers, such as Lanikai®, Eddy Finn®, and Kala®, have responded to this trend and are now turning out high-quality affordable instruments.
Just as with any string instrument, the woods used in construction of a ukulele will determine the ultimate quality of the sound that it produces. Less expensive instruments are often made
of laminated wood. Better quality instruments will use tonal hardwoods such as mahogany, rosewood, or maple for the back and sides of the instrument. Spruce is often the wood chosen for the
top of the instrument. Another poplar wood used in ukulele construction is Koa, which is native to
the Hawaiian Islands.
Ukuleles come in four basic sizes; soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. These are the four most common
sizes, but there are sopranino ukes on the smaller end of the scale, and bass ukes on the larger end of the scale.
Naturally, the larger the instrument, the more volume and bass tones that it will produce. Most ukuleles are shaped like
small guitars, but there are some variations in body shape such as the pineapple uke, which has a more rounded body.
Ukulele players use various tunings, including some open tunings. The most popular tunings will be discussed
below as we look at each different model.
Soprano
Soprano ukes are also referred to as standard ukes. Soprano ukes have a 13” scale, and are approximately 21”
in total length. The most popular tuning is (gCEA), with the G being tuned higher than the C. If you are a fan of older
music, you may see some older printed music that uses (aDF#B) tuning, with the A being tuned higher than the D.
While that was a traditional tuning, it has faded in popularity.
For more information email us: info@billsmusic.com
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Concert
The concert ukulele has a 15” scale, and is approximately 23” in total length. Like the soprano uke, the concert
uke is tuned (gCEA), with the G note tuned higher than the C note.
Tenor
Tenor ukuleles use a 17” scale, and are roughly 26” in total length. Traditional tuning is (GCEA), with the G
note tuned lower than the C note. However, many players prefer a (gCEA) tuning, with the G note tuned higher than
the C note.
Baritone
The baritone ukulele has a 19” scale, and is about 30” in total length. A baritone uke is usually tuned (DGBE),
which is the same as the highest four strings on a guitar. This familiar tuning makes the baritone uke a good choice
for guitar players who want to try their hand at playing a ukulele.
Zither
Overview
Zithers originated in Central Europe as folk instruments. There are many variations and types of Zithers. The
instrument basically consists of a multiple number of strings stretched across a sounding box. Zithers are pin-tuned,
and a tuning wrench is used to adjust the pins so that the strings are at the proper tension to produce the desired pitch.
The instrument is normally played lying on a table or across the lap. They are normally played with a plectrum
like a guitar, but other styles use a different method. For instance, a type of Zither called the ukelin is played using a
short bow similar to a violin bow. The hammered dulcimer is also a
member of the zither family, and it is played by striking the strings
with curved wooden mallets.
Other variations of the zither include the dulcimer and the
autoharp. More information on these instruments can be found in the
Bluegrass/Country/Folk section.
Fretless Zithers
Fretless zithers evolved from the Psaltery which was a
medieval instrument. Fretless zithers can be designed to play melody lines or chord accompaniment. Other models are
designed to play both chords and melody.
Fretted Zithers
Fretted zithers are also referred to as concert zithers. They have a fret board which is designed for playing
melody lines, and also a series of open strings that are used for bass and accompaniment. The dulcimer is also a type
of fretted zither.
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Bill’s Buys as well as Sells Both new and Used Musical Equipment Call 410-747-1900
Bill’s repair facility has been proud to service the instruments and equipment of East Coast
musicians since 1965. The reputation of our service technicians is second to none when it
comes to qualilty repair work, price value and turn-around time. Ron Cook and Gib Owen are
here six days a week to quickly and professionally get these and other instruments in top playing
condition: Guitars, Basses, Banjos, Cellos, Mandolins, Ukuleles, Amplifiers, DJ Gear, Speakers,
Keyboards, Mixers & More!
SERVICE & REPAIR
Ron is pictured here executing his signature
Supertune which consists of the following:
-Adjust the truss rod in the neck
-Adjust the bridge for height and intonation
-Tighten and clean all electronics, tuning gears &
pickups
-Clean and polish instrument
Banjos, Mandolins, 12-Strings & Resonator
Guitars can all be professionally Supertuned
Gib is shown here troubleshooting a Multi-Channel
PA Mixer. Gib has been caring for amps and
electronics here at Bill’s Music since ‘96.
Call Ron or Gib 410-747-1900
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